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, February 12, 2014

Extra tasty new aerial photos of Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension construction as project surpasses 50 percent complete milestone!


Steve Hymon, February 12, 2014

The 11.5-mile Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension is now 50 percent complete, according to the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, which is building the Pasadena-to-Azusa/Glendora border project.

Below are an awesome collection of aerial photos taken in recent days by the Construction Authority. The news release — with a lot of good info — follows the photographs.

We’ll go from west to east with the pics, starting in eastern Pasadena — click on any of the photos to see them larger:

Photos: Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.
Above is the work being done to extend the Gold Line’s tracks beyond the current terminus at Sierra Madre Villa in Pasadena.

A view looking east and south of the Gold Line’s right-of-way leaving the median of the 210 freeway and headed toward downtown Arcadia via the new Basket Bridge over the 210′s eastbound lanes.

The new bridge carrying the Gold Line tracks over busy Santa Anita Avenue. The old tracks were at street level.

The Arcadia station and parking lot taking shape. The station is right behind the popular REI store with the rest of downtown Arcadia a short walk south on First Street, which runs along the bottom of this photo.

A closer view of the tracks crossing First Street in downtown Arcadia.

The platforms for the Monrovia station and nearby parking. The old Santa Fe depot is at bottom left — the platforms for the Gold Line sit to the west. That’s the intersection of Duarte Road and Myrtle Avenue at bottom left.

The Myrtle Avenue crossing in Monrovia.

The new rail car maintenance campus in Monrovia that is between the 210 freeway, at left, and Duarte Road.

A ground level view of what will be the main building at the maintenance campus in Monrovia.
A ground level view of what will be the main building at the maintenance campus in Monrovia.
Duarte_Station_-_aerial (1)
The Duarte station at Duarte Road and Highland Avenue. City of Hope is just south of the tracks.

The tracks east of Highland Avenue in Duarte headed toward the 605 freeway and Irwindale.

The new rail bridge over the San Gabriel River in Irwindale.

The location of the future Irwindale station — south of the 210 and east of Irwindale Avenue.

BNSF train crossing Azusa Avenue on relocated freight track in Azusa.
BNSF train crossing Azusa Avenue on relocated freight track in Azusa.

Another view of the old right-of-way -- which the Gold Line will use -- and the new freight track.
Another view of the old right-of-way — which the Gold Line will use — and the new freight track.

The Gold Line tracks looking east from the bridge over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa.
The Gold Line tracks looking east from the bridge over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa.
The Gold Line platforms in downtown Azusa next to the old Santa Fe depot along with the newly realigned freight track.
The Gold Line platforms in downtown Azusa next to the old Santa Fe depot along with the newly realigned freight track.

The newly realigned freight track in Azusa adjacent to the platform foundations for the station that will serve Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University, which are out of view at the bottom of the photo.

And here is the news release from the Construction Authority:


Award-Winning Measure R Light Rail Project Remains On-Schedule and On-Budget

MONROVIA, CA – The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority (Construction Authority) announced today that the 11.5-mile Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension light rail project from Pasadena to Azusa is now more than halfway to project completion. When completed, the nearly $1 billion Measure R project will include six new light rail stations with intermodal parking facilities in the cities of Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa; two dozen new and rebuilt bridge structures; 14 at-grade street crossings; 3.6-miles of relocated freight track within a shared corridor with BNSF Railway; and a 24-acre, $265 million Operations Campus to house up to 84 light rail vehicles.

“We were the first Measure R rail project to break ground, and we have stayed on-schedule and on-budget since we began work in 2010,” commented Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian on the milestone. “We still have a significant way to go to substantial completion, but the progress already made provides the confidence that we will be able to meet our schedule and deliver this regionally significant project on time and on budget.”

All three design-build projects have been awarded for the project: (1) the $18.6 million Gold Line Bridge to Skanska USA; (2) the $486 million Pasadena to Azusa Alignment to Foothill Transit Constructors – a Kiewit-Parsons Joint Ventura (FTC); and (3) the $48.7 million Intermodal Parking and Enhancements to Webcor.  The Gold Line Bridge was completed on time and on budget in late 2012, and was recognized in 2013 with five prestigious industry awards for its design and construction.

The largest contract – the $486 million Pasadena to Azusa Alignment – is being designed and built by FTC, and is also on-schedule and on-budget. Since work began in early 2012, FTC has utilized nearly 500,000 work hours on the project and has now surpassed 50% completion. To date, eight at-grade street crossings, 15 bridge structures, 40% of the Operations Campus, and 70% of the utility work has been completed. The freight track between San Gabriel Ave in Azusa and the Glendora city border has been fully realigned to its new position south of the future light rail tracks, more than half of the Overhead Catenary System foundations have been put in place, and light rail track is starting to be installed. Importantly, of the nearly half million work hours completed, none have been lost due to injury.

“The excitement is building, as it becomes more and more apparent that the Gold Line will soon be arriving in these corridor cities,” added Balian. “As each bridge is completed, station canopy installed, or at-grade crossing re-opened following installation of rail improvements, our progress is evident to the community and to our city officials. We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation as we build this project.”

Just 18 months from now, the Alignment and Parking contracts will be completed. The Construction Authority anticipates having the Operations Campus ready for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) in March 2015, and the remainder of the project turned over to Metro in September 2015 for testing and pre-revenue service. Metro will decide when the project opens for passenger service.

View a photo gallery of 50% images: www.foothillextension.org/news/media-resources/50-percent-photos/

Here is what the project’s corridor mayors are saying about the 50% project milestone:

“I am extremely impressed as I watch the Gold Line being built in Azusa. Crews are nearly complete with the enormous undertaking of moving miles of freight track into its new position; while also building or rebuilding nine rail bridges and completing new street crossings across the city. Work has recently begun on our two future stations, and soundwalls are now under construction along the length of the rail corridor. I am confident that the project is more than halfway complete in our city, and I applaud the Construction Authority and their contractor for a remarkably smooth job so far. Keep up the good work.”

-          Mayor Joseph Rocha, City of Azusa

“Monrovia residents are patiently accepting the challenges brought by construction, because we all eagerly anticipate the Gold Line arriving in our city. The excitement is certainly building, especially now that we see the Monrovia station and parking facility starting to take shape.  Our city continues to move forward on the plans for our Station Square development, including the largest public works project in our history that will be built up literally around the Monrovia Gold Line station.”

-          Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, City of Monrovia

“Construction of the Gold Line has gone very well in Arcadia, since the project broke ground at Newcastle Park in June 2010. The Gold Line Bridge over the eastbound I-210 Freeway has won awards for its’ unique design and engineering, and the three other rail bridges in the city are also quite impressive. The Construction Authority and their contractor have done an excellent job making sure that the light rail project fits aesthetically into our city so well that I believe it is going to feel like the train never left Arcadia.”

-          Mayor Mickey Segal, City of Arcadia

“The 50% completion of the Gold Line to Duarte marks a triumphant shift in transit options for Duarte residents.  We look forward to 100% completion when we can ride the Gold Line into Pasadena and LA.  The canopy structures are already installed at our beautiful station, and light rail track is being laid just a few hundred feet to the east.  I look forward to celebrating the completion of the Duarte/City of Hope station just a few short months from now.”

-          Mayor Liz Reilly, City of Duarte

“I have watched the Gold Line construction throughout the 11.5-mile corridor over the last year. The work is moving quickly and is already having an impact on the area. With so many workers coming in and out of Irwindale daily, I believe that reaching 50% helps them realize that help is truly on its way. Soon they will be able to utilize the new rail line to get to and from work, and allow our city to grow in new and more sustainable ways.”

-          Mayor Mark A. Breceda, City of Irwindale
About the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension - The Foothill Extension is a nearly $2 billion, 24-mile extension of the Metro Gold Line light rail system, being overseen by the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, an independent transportation planning and construction agency. The project is planned in two segments – Pasadena to Azusa and Azusa to Montclair. The Pasadena to Azusa segment is fully funded by Los Angeles County’s Measure R and is on schedule to be completed in September 2015, when it will be turned over to Metro for testing and pre-revenue service. Measure R is funding the majority of the cost associated with the upcoming advanced conceptual engineering and environmental work for the Azusa to Montclair segment (San Bernardino County will fund their portion of the work). The Construction Authority issued a Request for Proposals for this work in January 2014, and anticipates awarding a contract for the 18-month design and environmental work in April. The Construction Authority continues to work with Metro to seek the nearly $1 billion needed to construct the Azusa to Montclair segment.

Port to Test New Clean-air System


By Eric Haun, February 12, 2014

 Port of Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach will fund testing of a new air pollution-control technology for docked cargo ships, thanks to an agreement approved Monday by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners.

Under the pact, the Port would rely upon regional air quality authorities to oversee a demonstration project to thoroughly assess both the safety and the pollution-reducing effectiveness of a mobile, barge-mounted emissions control system to capture and treat ships’ smokestack emissions.

California recently began requiring container, refrigerated-cargo and cruise ships to plug in to “shore power” while at berth in order to reduce air pollution by using clean, landside electricity. However, the shore power regulations only apply to about 100 of the Port's 300 vessel calls a month.

The new system could provide an alternative to shore power, allowing ships to run their engines to produce the power they need for lighting, communications, pumps, refrigeration, etc. The “Alternative Maritime Emission Control System” or “AMECS,” diverts a docked ship’s emissions into an air-pollution filter-and-treatment device.

“This is an incredible breakthrough, and I’m pleased that we are supporting this demonstration project. We want to become a zero-emissions port, so I look forward with particular interest to see how the AMECS technology performs,” said Harbor Commission President Doug Drummond.

A Rancho Dominguez-based company, Advanced Cleanup Technology Inc. or ACTI, developed the AMECS technology. Under the agreement, the South Coast Air Quality Management District will supervise the testing on behalf of the Port, with Harbor Department staff oversight.

The Clean Air Action Plan approved by the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles set a goal to find alternative technology to reduce air pollution from ships at berth, for ships not covered by the state’s shore power regulation.

The Port has been working with ACTI since 2006 on demonstrating the technology. An earlier, wharf-mounted version was often called “sock on a stack” due to the large bonnet that was lifted by crane and placed over the smokestacks to capture emissions. The new system is mounted on a barge and uses a direct connection to a vessel’s exhaust outlets.

The AMECS demonstration project is contingent upon full execution of a contract and agreement among the parties. The Port will fund the total project cost of $2,063,624. Harbor Commission approval of the project's budget was granted in July 2013.

The Port has succeeded in dramatically cutting air pollution sources since 2005. Diesel particulate pollution is down 81 percent, and sulfur oxide pollution is down 88 percent. However, the Port is committed to reducing its environmental impact further, and is pursuing a “zero-emission” or pollution-free goods-movement system.

In 2005, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners adopted the Green Port Policy, committing the Harbor Department to work with tenants, stakeholders and the community to reduce the impact of goods movement on neighbors, the environment and wildlife. In 2006, in an historic joint meeting, the Long Beach and Los Angeles boards of Harbor Commissioners approved the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan ― a comprehensive strategy to limit air pollution from all port-related sources in the harbor area, and to document and share the ports’ progress toward that goal.

Air Pollution: It's Complicated, But It's Still About Environmental Justice


By Ashley Verhines, February 12, 2014


Many recent studies have shown that air pollution levels and income levels are linked. Poorer communities suffer from bad air more than wealthy communities. A recent study by UCLA researchers revealed some complications in this correlation, but found that air pollution is still about environmental justice.

The researchers drove a zero-emissions vehicle through four residential Los Angeles neighborhoods to collect data on real-time concentrations of toxic ultrafine particles. Mar Vista's North Westdale, a middle-class neighborhood downwind of the Santa Monica Airport, scored worst. Surprisingly, the freeway-surrounded Boyle Heights neighborhood scored slightly better for these pollutants, followed closely by downtown Los Angeles. Less surprisingly, the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood scored significantly better than the other three.

Freshly emitted ultrafine air pollutants are known to cause asthma, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, low birth weight and other health complications. Focusing on these types of pollutants instead of smog and ozone--which have been the subject of significant prior research--was critical to the study, which was published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. Suzanne Paulson, a professor in UCLA's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability directed the research with Arthur Winer, a professor in UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, and Wonsik Choi, a postgraduate researcher who led the fieldwork and drove the vehicle that collected the air samples.

The researchers found that while there were no significant differences in more traditional air pollutants like larger "PM2.5" particles between neighborhoods, readings of the tiniest airborne particles, the concentration of ultrafine particles (less than 0.1 microns in diameter) varied widely between neighborhoods on summer afternoons.

"The North Westdale neighborhood is heavily impacted by aircraft activities at Santa Monica Airport," said Suzanne Paulson. "It has exceptionally high levels of ultrafine particles when aircraft are active, possibly among the highest concentrations of any neighborhood in the Los Angeles area."

Boyle Heights, a less well-off neighborhood near downtown LA, is similarly affected by roadway pollution. "It is nearly surrounded by freeways and crisscrossed by major arterial roads," Paulson said. "These streets carry a large number of high-emitting older vehicles, and its neighborhoods are characterized by short blocks with abundant stop signs, causing frequent emission spikes from accelerating of vehicles."

But vehicle emissions are not the only source of ultrafine particles found in these neighborhoods. "In Boyle Heights, and to a lesser degree downtown, there are additional ultrafine particles that are not freshly released from vehicles but instead form in sunlight-driven smog processes and are ultimately the result of pollution blown in from upwind areas to the west," Paulson said.

Although their findings indicate that all kinds of neighborhoods may face dangerous levels of air pollution, the researchers found that air quality is still an environmental justice issue, with poorer neighborhoods more likely to face greater pollution. "Despite substantial improvements in regional air quality, cleaner air remains a highly desirable amenity in Southern California," said Arthur Winer. West Los Angeles, the most affluent of the four neighborhoods, still experienced the lowest concentrations of ultrafine particulate matter. Furthermore, it experienced a significant decrease in ultrafine particles in the last few years, which also can be explained in terms of its wealth.

"The decrease in ultrafine particles between 2008 and 2011 in the West Los Angeles area was dramatic," Wonsik Choi said. "Affluent West Los Angeles experiences rapid turnover of the vehicle fleet, resulting in a higher proportion of newer vehicles with cleaner engines and better fuel efficiency."

Higher property prices in neighborhoods with lower concentrations of noxious particulate matter is one way that residents implicitly signal that they value the quality of their air. Consequently, the lack of purchasing power for the poor to live in neighborhoods with necessarily clean air continues to be a concern of environmental justice.

The 710 Long Beach Freeway: A History of America's Most Important Freeway


By Gilbert Estrada, Ph.D.February 12, 2014

This article is part of a series that examines the 710 Corridor and its impact in the surrounding communities, including Southern California's goods movement, the historical impact on 710 Freeway communities, and its rise as the most important freeway in American capitalism. See part one here.

From the corporate investment of Jamestown to the Wolf of Wall Street era, economic interests have superseded many other American values. The I-710 Long Beach Freeway, meanwhile, has become the country's most important -- although clogged -- economic artery, in the vascular system of American capitalism. The business of America is business.

Yet, the 710 Freeway's primary function has aided in the largest trade deficit in world history, facilitating the exporting of U.S. manufacturing jobs, while Pocahontas pajamas, children toys, and a litany of consumer goods are imported onto thousands of diesel powered trucks.

Formerly known as the Los Angeles River Freeway, the I-710 Long Beach Freeway was one of the earliest freeways in the region. Its origins can be traced back to the "Great Free-Harbor Fight" of the 1890s, where Los Angeles City officials helped solidify the port in San Pedro by ingeniously annexing a sixteen-mile "shoestring district" that made the harbor a legal part of the city. Los Angeles also spent $10 million on harbor improvements, and proposed the construction of a truck highway for developing the port.

Although millions of dollars were poured into the port's infrastructure by the early 1940s, not much was done to facilitate any port highway. Before state planners (responsible for designing state freeways) could map out a freeway from the ports to the Los Angeles metropolis, harbor interest had already begun making preliminary maps as early as 1921; though nothing materialized. Despite a 1939 California Freeway Law that gave "the state broad powers of land acquisition for the construction [and financing] of freeways," it was the City of Long Beach that took it upon themselves to plan, construct, and finance the port highway, to be called the Los Angeles River Freeway because it hugged the natural waterways that were once the lifeblood of the founding families. So, the 710 Freeway is essentially the child of the City of Long Beach, superseding legal precedents that had placed the state of California, not local governments, as the principal investors and designers of state freeways (the 710 was added to the Interstate Highway system after it was completed).

Central Manufacturing District | Photo: ''California Highway and Public Works'' courtesy of the Automobile Club of Southern California
Central Manufacturing District
The freeway originates at the Port of Long Beach (POLB), and was planned to extend well past Los Angeles' central manufacturing district (CMD) in Southeast Los Angeles, then the largest planned industrial district in the world. Home to blue chip companies like Chrysler, Studebaker, and General Motors, the CMD was launched by a 1908 zoning law that established industrial districts along the Los Angeles River, and included some 3,750 industrial acres, with more than 750 major industries, in the City of Commerce.

The purpose of the freeway was to facilitate business, connecting recently manufactured goods from the CMD to the export facilities at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Arguably, the exact opposite has occurred.

By 1949, Long Beach had already invested $1,000,000 on the freeway, and the city's Chamber of Commerce made reoccurring appeals to the California State Highway Commission for continued support. This unorthodox practice of an independent agency developing their own freeway was not unnoticed by the California Division of Highways, the precursor to Caltrans. "The southerly extension of the Los Angeles River Freeway," as noted in their bi-monthly publication California Highway and Public Works, "requires special mention because the construction work now in progress by the City of Long Beach is the only instance since World War II of another governmental agency carrying out the construction and financing of a complete unit on the Los Angeles Metropolitan Freeway System." Several years before the Los Angeles River Freeway was legislated into the California State Highway System in 1947, Long Beach planners received general counsel from the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, but were largely free from state interference when designing the freeway.

But a lack of outside involvement was perhaps desirable for Long Beach, because for the city a central premise of the 710 was to facilitate port traffic with local industry, in lieu of other traffic calming measures. "The Long Beach Freeway will connect the U.S. Naval installations at Long Beach and Terminal Island with the industrial area in Los Angeles and vicinity." The Division of Highways, on the other hand, stressed that the main goal of the 710 was port accessibility. "This artery...is to serve the harbor, [and is] an attempt to devise an adequate means of distributing ... traffic into our harbor and business districts," wrote a Division of Highways District Engineer.

A 1953 Division of Highways map shows the I-710 Long Beach Freeway was one of the earliest freeways in Southern California. Unfinished and only 22 miles in length, the freeway has become a vital corridor in the nation's movement of goods.
A 1953 Division of Highways map shows the I-710 Long Beach Freeway was one of the earliest freeways in Southern California. Unfinished and only 22 miles in length, the freeway has become a vital corridor in the nation's movement of goods. 
Aerial view of the Central Manufacturing District, located within the cities of Commerce, Bell, and Vernon; view is looking east. The Long Beach (710) Freeway is visible from middle left to lower right, and is still under construction at this stage, 1956 | Kelly-Holiday Collection of Negatives and Photographs, Los Angeles Public Library
Aerial view of the Central Manufacturing District, located within the cities of Commerce, Bell, and Vernon; view is looking east. The Long Beach (710) Freeway is visible from middle left to lower right, and is still under construction at this stage, 1956 

The strategic start of the freeway at the POLB was also "handy for truck movements taking ship cargo to further destinations. From this freeway the trucks have access to the state's great highway network," acknowledged state planners. Long Beach Harbor authorities even financed a "major portion" of the freeway, in what the state acknowledged was a "staggering" amount, a figure that reached approximately $12 million by 1953, according to a the Division of Highways.

In other words, the freeway was constructed to serve business generated by the harbor and local industry; commuter vehicular traffic was secondary, at best. Any negative impact to communities during or after the construction of the freeway was seen as all but non-existent. And although that fact may appear to be a conspiratorial fiction found in noir plots like "L.A. Confidential," it's a transportation reality; it's as American as apple pie, or diabetes, to use a more contemporary analogy.

Although freeways may be planned as neutral lines on city maps by engineers, the realities of their final design have to do with a litany of other social, political, and economic factors. Freeway planners, and the politicians whom they work for, have many goals when designing a freeway. As such, when the 710 terminates directly into the port terminal, that happens by design, even if a local municipality has to finance the route for the freeway and several local bridges. This means public monies were utilized for projects that would greatly enhance private companies, at the cost of public resources that could be utilized for community housing, parks, and other items that were diminished due to freeway- and port-related activities in Long Beach.

Segments of the 710 Freeway eventually connected with the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, in the heart of the CMD in East Los Angeles, by the 1960s. Home to prominent companies, the CMD also housed extensive intermodal railyards from the Union Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Because railroads were a mainstay in the movement of cargo, some of the early freeway construction of the 710 in East L.A. were multiple bridges over eighteen railroad tracks, requiring 1,100 parcels of real estate. Already dissecting certain parts of the communities surrounding its southern sections, the 710's impacts around its northern sections were just as significant, gutting through established communities, such as East Los Angeles and City of Commerce, that already housed dozen of freeway lane miles. In East Los Angeles, nearly 11,000 residents were displaced due to freeway construction and widenings, consuming some 7% of total land area. Freeways have caused other headaches in these communities, such as restricting pedestrian access to dozens of local streets.

710 Freeway at the Santa Ana Freeway, 1956 | Photo: ''California Highway and Public Works'' courtesy of the Automobile Club of Southern California
710 Freeway at the Santa Ana Freeway, 1956
Bob Eula, whose family moved to Los Angeles under the advisement of their family doctor due to his father's heart condition, remembered quaint Japanese gardens before the 710 Freeway was built. Believe it or not, many physicians prescribed L.A. as a place to relocate in order to improve your health. Eula recalled that his father bought their house in 1945, just yards from where the 710 Freeway would be built, in what would become the City of Commerce. Mr. Eula, who still lives in the same house, remembered, "it was really relaxing [and] really good" before the railroad expanded from the single track he crossed over to get to the movie theatre on Whittier Boulevard.

Then came the 710. Bob Eula recalled first learning about the freeway project by seeing construction crews erecting freeway bridges, but was not really alarmed. But when "three or four major streets [of] homes [in his neighborhood] were gone," Eula and his neighbors were upset. The community grew increasingly angry when the freeway bridges were nearly complete, but were not erected next to the remaining residential homes. Instead, Division of Highways planners decided to isolate the western homes with nearly three stories of dirt that was essentially used as a land bridge, so the 710 freeway could skirt over Washington Boulevard and local railroads. Even today, a massive multistory mountain of dirt supports the 710 and bisects the Bandini community, while a peak of 40,000 daily diesel trucks utilize the 710 Freeway.

In 2003, Eula purchased a carbon monoxide monitor. Once plugged in, the alarm rang. Eula phoned the gas company, and when the technician arrived he could not find any indoor CO leaks. When the technician stepped outside, he had found the problem. The high levels of CO were the result of local rail yard activity and tens of thousands of trucks utilizing local streets and the 710 Freeway. That type of alarming ambient air pollution is normal, and makes 710 corridor communities some of the most polluted neighborhoods in the state -- which will be the subject of our next article.

Trucks clog up the 710 at Washington Boulevard | Photo: Gilbert Estrada
Trucks clog up the 710 at Washington Boulevard 

The End of Snow?


By Porter Fox, February 7, 2014


 Slopes were closed last month at Fichtelberg mountain in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.

OVER the next two weeks, hundreds of millions of people will watch Americans like Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin ski for gold on the downhill alpine course. Television crews will pan across epic vistas of the rugged Caucasus Mountains, draped with brilliant white ski slopes. What viewers might not see is the 16 million cubic feet of snow that was stored under insulated blankets last year to make sure those slopes remained white, or the hundreds of snow-making guns that have been running around the clock to keep them that way.

Officials canceled two Olympic test events last February in Sochi after several days of temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and a lack of snowfall had left ski trails bare and brown in spots. That situation led the climatologist Daniel Scott, a professor of global change and tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, to analyze potential venues for future Winter Games. His thought was that with a rise in the average global temperature of more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit possible by 2100, there might not be that many snowy regions left in which to hold the Games. He concluded that of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics, as few as 10 might be cold enough by midcentury to host them again. By 2100, that number shrinks to 6.

The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s, and as a result, snow is melting. In the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere. Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s, and if climate change is not reined in, two-thirds of European ski resorts will be likely to close by 2100.

The same could happen in the United States, where in the Northeast, more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters. As far for the Western part of the country, it will lose an estimated 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed — reducing the snowpack in Park City, Utah, to zero and relegating skiing to the top quarter of Ajax Mountain in Aspen.

The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter. Snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Alps are warming two to three times faster than the worldwide average, possibly because of global circulation patterns. Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years, with the strongest trends in the Northern regions of the country. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, and this winter is already looking to be one of the driest on record — with California at just 12 percent of its average snowpack in January, and the Pacific Northwest at around 50 percent.

To a skier, snowboarder or anyone who has spent time in the mountains, the idea of brown peaks in midwinter is surreal. Poets write of the grace and beauty by which snowflakes descend and transform a landscape. Powder hounds follow the 100-odd storms that track across the United States every winter, then drive for hours to float down a mountainside in the waist-deep “cold smoke” that the storms leave behind.

The snow I learned to ski on in northern Maine was more blue than white, and usually spewed from snow-making guns instead of the sky. I didn’t like skiing at first. It was cold. And uncomfortable.

Artificial snow-making has become the stopgap defense against the early effects of climate change.  

Then, when I was 12, the mystical confluence of vectors that constitute a ski turn aligned, and I was hooked. I scrubbed toilets at my father’s boatyard on Mount Desert Island in high school so I could afford a ski pass and sold season passes in college at Mad River Glen in Vermont to get a free pass for myself. After graduating, I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for the skiing. Four years later, Powder magazine hired me, and I’ve been an editor there ever since.

My bosses were generous enough to send me to five continents over the last 15 years, with skis in tow. I’ve skied the lightest snow on earth on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, where icy fronts spin off the Siberian plains and dump 10 feet of powder in a matter of days. In the high peaks of Bulgaria and Morocco, I slid through snow stained pink by grains of Saharan sand that the crystals formed around.

In Baja, Mexico, I skied a sliver of hardpack snow at 10,000 feet on Picacho del Diablo, sandwiched between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, a crew of skiers and I journeyed to the whipsaw Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey to ski steep couloirs alongside caves where troglodytes lived thousands of years ago.

At every range I traveled to, I noticed a brotherhood among mountain folk: Say you’re headed into the hills, and the doors open. So it has been a surprise to see the winter sports community, as one of the first populations to witness effects of climate change in its own backyard, not reacting more vigorously and swiftly to reverse the fate we are writing for ourselves.

It’s easy to blame the big oil companies and the billions of dollars they spend on influencing the media and popular opinion. But the real reason is a lack of knowledge. I know, because I, too, was ignorant until I began researching the issue for a book on the future of snow.

I was floored by how much snow had already disappeared from the planet, not to mention how much was predicted to melt in my lifetime. The ski season in parts of British Columbia is four to five weeks shorter than it was 50 years ago, and in eastern Canada, the season is predicted to drop to less than two months by midcentury. At Lake Tahoe, spring now arrives two and a half weeks earlier, and some computer models predict that the Pacific Northwest will receive 40 to 70 percent less snow by 2050. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise — they grew 41 percent between 1990 and 2008 — then snowfall, winter and skiing will no longer exist as we know them by the end of the century.

The effect on the ski industry has already been significant. Between 1999 and 2010, low snowfall years cost the industry $1 billion and up to 27,000 jobs. Oregon took the biggest hit out West, with 31 percent fewer skier visits during low snow years. Next was Washington at 28 percent, Utah at 14 percent and Colorado at 7.7 percent.

The winter sports industry contributes $66 billion annually to the nation’s economy, and supports more than 960,000 jobs across 38 states, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. A surprisingly large sector of the United States economy appears to be teetering on the brink.

Much of these environmental data come from a 2012 report, “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States,” by two University of New Hampshire researchers, Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson. The paper was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and a start-up advocacy group called Protect Our Winters. The professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones started that group, known as POW, in 2007 when he realized that many of the slopes he had once ridden no longer held snow. It has since become the leading voice for those fighting to save winter, largely because few others are doing anything about it.

The National Ski Area Association has reacted with relatively ineffective campaigns like Sustainable Slopes and the Climate Challenge, while policies at ski resorts range from aggressively green to indifferent. Somewhere in between lie the majority of American ski areas, which are struggling to make ends meet while pushing recycling, car-pooling, carbon offsets and awareness campaigns to show they care.

Postcards From Milder Winters, Recent and Future

Climate studies predict changes if emissions, and temperatures, continue to rise through the end of this century.

The truth is, it is too late for all of that. Greening the ski industry is commendable, but it isn’t nearly enough. Nothing besides a national policy shift on how we create and consume energy will keep our mountains white in the winter — and slow global warming to a safe level.

This is no longer a scientific debate. It is scientific fact. The greatest fear of most climate scientists is continued complacency that leads to a series of natural climatic feedbacks — like the melting of the methane-rich permafrost of Arctic Canada.

Artificial snow-making now helps to cover 88 percent of American ski resorts, and has become the stopgap measure to defend against the early effects of climate change. Snow-making requires a tremendous amount of electricity and water, though, so it’s unlikely that snow guns will be our savior. In the Alps, snow-making uses more water in the winter than the entire city of Vienna, about 500,000 gallons of water per acre. Ski areas like Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin seed clouds with silver iodide to make it snow, but that won’t help much when it gets warmer. When it does, whatever the clouds bring will fall as rain.
With several dry winters back to back, the ski industry is waking up. Last spring, 108 ski resorts, along with 40 major companies, signed the Climate Declaration, urging federal policy makers to take action on climate change. A few weeks later, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, stating, “Mountain communities worry about what smaller snowpacks will mean for tourism — and then, families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it will mean for their drinking water.”
It was a big step forward for skiers and the country. And it led people to ask me, “Why save skiing when there are more pressing consequences of climate change to worry about?” The answer is, this is not about skiing. It is about snow, a vital component of earth’s climate system and water cycle. When it disappears, what follows is a dangerous chain reaction of catastrophes like forest fires, drought, mountain pine beetle infestation, degraded river habitat, loss of hydroelectric power, dried-up aquifers and shifting weather patterns. Not to mention that more than a billion people around the world — including about 70 million in the western United States — rely on snowmelt for their fresh water supply.
I remember watching my first Winter Olympics in 1980. We were on a family ski trip at Copper Mountain in Colorado, where my brother and I skied the first powder run of our lives. It was on a gentle slope just off one of the main trails. We wiggled down the hill in chaotic rapture then skied the run again and again. The snow was soft and the turns effortless. You don’t have to be a skier to feel nostalgia for those whitewashed days — or to see the writing on the wall.

China to set up 10b yuan fund to help fight smog

Rewards to replace subsidies in fight against air pollution 

February 12, 2014

Many Chinese cities have once again been choked by smog this winter

The Chinese government said on Wednesday it will set up a 10 billion yuan (US$1.65 billion) fund to fight air pollution, offering rewards for companies that clean up their operations.

Pollution is of increasing concern to China’s leaders who are anxious to douse potential unrest as a more affluent urban population turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic modelthat has poisoned much of the country’s air, water and soil.

Authorities have issued countless orders and policies to try and clean up the country and invested in various projects to fight pollution and empowered courts to mete out the death penalty in serious cases.

 But enforcement of rules has been patchy at the local level, where authorities often rely on taxes paid by polluting industries.

Premier Li Keqiang, at a cabinet meeting, said the central government would set up the 10 billion yuan fund to “use rewards to replace subsidies to fight air pollution in key areas”, the government said in a statement.

Companies that were considered leaders in their field at cleaning up their emissions would be given “incentives”, it added, without providing details.

The government said China had already made progress towards tackling smog.

“But the issue of air pollution has been forming for a long time, and we must recognise the serious nature of tackling this and must persevere unremittingly,” it said.

The government would continue to push energy efficiency and clean energy schemes, including improving petrol standards for vehicles, and the phasing out of outdated equipment and factories, the statement added.

It said that the government would also keep on “perfecting” the oversight role of environmental protection bodies and “standardise” the release of public information about pollution.

Many Chinese cities have once again been choked by smog this winter, with the problem unusually acute in the cosmopolitan commercial hub of Shanghai.

China could grant its undersized environment ministry new powers over resources, possibly allowing it to veto projects, and more muscle to punish polluters as part of a government shake-up next month, sources said.

Californians pay for cleaner air in Georgia


By Dennis Wyatt, February 12, 2014

How does planting trees in Georgia reduce air pollution in California?

In reality it doesn’t but in the political fantasy world advanced by Assembly Bill 32 known as the “Global Warming Act” it does.

The goal of the 2006 measure is to reduce California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Who could object to that? But as with most legislation passed in Sacramento AB32 was long on generalities and lean on details. This hasn’t been a good thing for cities, businesses, and farmers struggling to try to figure out how to implement AB32’s mandate to revert to 1990 air quality levels. It is particularly troublesome in the San Joaquin Valley that has seen more than a 50 percent jump in air quality over the past 28 years. AB32 is an overlap on federal air quality requirements that come with their own maddening dictates. The valley is already struggling trying to figure out how to meet one federal pollution benchmark regarding ozone standards that even air quality experts concede can’t be met even if all vehicle, construction, farming, and train traffic were to cease tomorrow from Stockton to Bakersfield. But even when the great wizards of Sacramento get more specific the rules they outline often lead to smoke and mirrors with no tangible benefit.

Then there are the grand schemes aimed at providing the key muscle to reach lofty goals that lawmakers promise when cuddling up to special interest groups allegedly in the name of public good.

We saw it happen in 2001 with the electricity crisis. California got cozy with the energy providers as politicians danced with the likes of PG&E, Enron, and Southern California Edison to deregulate the electricity markets in  the name of cheaper power for consumers.

We all know how that went.

The Global Warming Act is now starting to show signs that it is a repeat of power deregulation in terms of unintended consequences.

State Senate President Darrell Steinberg last month noted in a Los Angeles Times piece that the cornerstone of AB32’s implementation — cap and trade — allows polluters to buy green credits from those that reduce pollution.

That in itself isn’t bad but a surprisingly large chunk of those credits are being bought from out-of-state sources. That’s right. California businesses that pollute because it is next to impossible to reduce their emissions further are “buying” green credits from sources beyond California’s borders such as timber firms re-planting trees and dairies installing methane digesters.

How does this help clean the air in California? It doesn’t. What it does is drive up the cost of doing business and living in California with no tangible benefits.

The state’s biggest polluters not only aren’t investing in green technologies for their California operations but they are adding to the cost of consumer goods such as gasoline by tacking on the cost of buying emissions credits from out-of-state sources.

You could argue trees are fleeting sources of greenhouse gas offsets as they have a tendency to eventually die or be cut down. But if the emissions credits had gone for trees planted in California at least the state would have gotten some measurable benefit from what amounts to a costly air pollution tax ultimately borne by consumers.

It gets worse.

Last month Gov. Jerry Brown started a push to use $250 million of the permit fees paid by polluters who couldn’t secure and purchase the cheaper emissions credits to help start the high speed rail track construction in the San Joaquin Valley.

So how is the $250 million investment in the bullet train going to effectively reduce air pollution in the state’s most problematic air quality region — the San Joaquin Valley? It might eventually take a chunk out of the air traffic between Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s fine. But those flights tend to go over the ocean and the coast. It’s a major construction project with a lot of potential for dust — an air quality pollutant under federal rules. That means it will require lots of water to control the dust. Since a shortage of water is already causing mass unemployment in the valley, how will the bullet train construction mean a net gain in valley jobs if they take water that farming needs an therefore costs jobs? Oops, wrong Sacramento whooper.

Since the trains run on electricity they won’t emit greenhouse gases, right? Wrong.

They need electricity to run. Given the fact that nuclear power was generating 14 percent of the state’ power mix before San Onofre became history, there is going to have to be some fossil fuel burning somewhere to power the trains.

 California could blanket the Coastal Ranges with wind turbines and step up its bird kill. They could cover the Mojave Desert with solar farms to disturb delicate eco systems. New hydroelectric power is a bit problematic given how environmentalists equate building more dams with filling Yosemite Valley with cement.

That means somewhere more greenhouse gas emissions are going to be created to power the governor’s high speed legacy.

The world is not perfect. But what California leaders often hype as bold innovations more often than not come back to bite Golden State taxpayers and consumers in the pocketbook with minimal or no benefits.

At least thanks to cap and trade the people of states such as Georgia are breathing cleaner air and are enjoying a more robust economy on our dime.

Metrolink to airport gains steam


By Luke Money, February 8, 2014

A new Metrolink station that will allow rail passengers to take a direct route between the Santa Clarita Valley and the Burbank Bob Hope Airport is expected to be complete in early 2015, enhancing “rail-to-plane” transportation options for local travelers, officials say.

Construction on a new Metrolink station in Burbank is expected to begin sometime this year, within the next few months, Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean said in an interview.
“The station should be open and operable by early 2015,” McLean said.

The airport station will allow riders on the Metrolink Antelope Valley line — which runs from Lancaster to Los Angeles with stops in Glendale, Sylmar and locations in the Santa Clarita Valley, among other places — access to the regional airport.

Ground was broken on the new station in 2013.

“With this new Bob Hope Airport Metrolink station, residents of the Santa Clarita, Antelope and north San Fernando valleys will have safe, convenient and economical Metrolink rail service to the national air travel and local employment opportunities available at and around this regional airport,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich when ground was broken.

Environmental and engineering work on the new station is expected to wrap up this month with the goal of beginning construction work in late June, according to Mark Hardyment, director of transportation and environmental programs with the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
The plan is for the station to be open for business in January 2015, Hardyment said.

The new station is part of an overall plan to increase and improve rail service in the area and increase the efficiency of rail transportation on the Antelope Valley line, he said.

McLean said she thinks the new station will make it easier for Santa Clarita Valley residents flying out of Burbank.

“I absolutely think there’s going to be a demand,” the city councilwoman said. “If I need to fly somewhere and it’s at all possible, I use the Burbank Bob Hope Airport.”

NFL Events Off the Table for the Rose Bowl This Year


By Rachel Young, February 11, 2014



 Following a recent lawsuit filed by neighborhood associations surrounding the Rose Bowl that ruled in favor of the City, City Council and the Rose Bowl Operating Company voted to limit the amount of large events to 18, take the NFL off the table for 2014 and limit the amount of walks or runs for the year.

Of the 18 events, which exceeds the normal threshold of 12 displacement events allowed, 17 are approved including a three-night concert of One Direction, an undecided two-night concert, the 10th annual Autism Speaks, an international soccer game, and the 88th annual July 4th Americafest.

“No NFL in 2014, it isn’t the ultimate answer but it’s certainly a step forward. Max at 18 major events isn’t ideal but it’s a step forward,” President of the Linda Vista Annandale Association Nina Chomsky said. “We seem to have a better understanding between all of us who are doing this. It isn’t the perfect world, but I feel things are getting better.”

While the NFL is out of the question for 2014, the discussion will not go away entirely until an approved alternative exists according to Councilmember Victor Gordo. Chomsky said she will be back in January of 2015 to fight the same battle.

Gordo, who serves as President of the Rose Bowl Operating Company, said the RBOC plans to consider minor events for supplemental revenue such as corporate events, film shoots, and other events that could use the field, pavilion or locker rooms.

For the fiscal year of 2015, beginning in July, the RBOC expects to double the amount of revenue generated from non-football displacement events from $1 million to $2 million.

Premium seating will also increase the revenues from UCLA games from around $2 million to a projected $7 million in 2014 according to Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn.

The amount of walks or runs hosted by RBOC will be limited to 13 and the City agreed to not exceed the three already planned events at the Rose Bowl including the Wiggle Waggle.

To limit the amount of minor events, the City will also conduct a study of all events occurring in the Central Arroyo including Kidspace, independently organized walks, bicycling events, and others. RBOC will split the cost for the event coordination study that will help establish a master calendar and allow for minimal impact on neighbors.

“As a frequent user of the arroyo on weekends, it’s the real annoyance events, the really small events with people that aren’t very well organized, the parking is all goofy, those are the kinds of events, that on the recreation use of the arroyo are a real annoyance so I’m looking forward to seeing that number come down after this study,” Councilmember Margaret McAustin said.