Purpose

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, March 5, 2014

Length of public-private road contracts questioned

http://www.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryID=26648#.UxgZFIV8pU0

By David Tanner, March 5, 2014

Some public-private partnerships involving toll roads are only a few years into long-term contracts but are already falling short on traffic and revenue. Members of a U.S. House panel questioned the length of the contracts and urged accountability for so-called PPPs during a hearing Wednesday, March 5, on Capitol Hill.

The House Panel on Public-Private Partnerships, created by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chaired by Rep. John. J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., discussed an overview of public-private partnerships and their effects on highway and transit projects.

Duncan, although generally supportive of private-sector involvement in transportation, said he was concerned about the length of some of the contracts.

“One of the main concerns about PPPs is where we leave taxpayers 30 years down the road paying for it,” Duncan said.

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Michael Capuano of Massachusetts cut right to the chase on some PPP contracts that last 75 or even 99 years.

“I’m concerned about spending tomorrow’s money today,” he said during a discussion of the Indiana Toll Road. Back in 2006, then Gov. Mitch Daniels leased the toll road for 75 years, allowing a private firm from Spain and Australia to keep the toll revenue until 2081 in exchange for operation and maintenance of the roadway.

Truckers have seen tolls on the Indiana Toll Road more than double since 2006 to help the private investors recoup the $3.85 billion they spent to control the roadway.

Public-private partnerships for new construction can generally speed up project delivery, according to a representative from the Congressional Budget Office who testified during the hearing.

“PPPs have built roads slightly less expensively, and slightly more quickly, than traditional methods,” CBO’s John Kile said.

Capuano later turned the topic back to spending tomorrow’s money today to complete a project.

“You move up a project 17 years, and that’s great,” he said during one exchange. “What happens when the next guy 17 years from now needs to build a road or a bridge? We’ve spent his money. I’m not interested in a drunken night out spending the family jewels.”

The legislative panel will have a few more hearings before making recommendations to the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The full committee will use the recommendations as it decides what to put into the next surface transportation authorization bill concerning PPPs.

OOIDA has had a position on public-private partnerships for years. The Association does not support the lease or sale of public roadways to the private sector, and does not support efforts to toll existing toll-free infrastructure paid for with federal tax dollars.

“People make this claim that lifecycle costs are where they’re going to find savings for transportation projects, but over time, the truth is that the money used to pay private investors for these projects is gone very quickly, leaving the taxpayer holding the bag,” said OOIDA Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs Ben Siegrist, who attended the hearing.

“I found this interesting. As they were closing out the hearing, they talked about the reason states and municipalities reach out and go for these public-private partnerships, but it’s because they have to,” Siegrist said. “And it’s because Congress lacks the backbone to use Highway Trust Fund dollars the way they’re supposed to be used.”

La Cañada joins city alliance to study 710 Freeway tunnel project

The '5 Cities Alliance' is designed to respond to EIR related to 710 Freeway.

 http://www.lacanadaonline.com/news/tn-vsl-me-la-canada-joins-city-alliance-to-study-710-freeway-tunnel-project-20140305,0,2100428.story

 By Sara Cardine, March 5, 2014

710 Freeway

 The 710 Freeway ends at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010.

The city of La Cañada Flintridge has joined four other cities — Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena and Sierra Madre — in an alliance designed to respond quickly and efficiently to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) underway by Metro and Caltrans related to the 710 Freeway Tunnel Project.

The report is expected to be released sometime this spring. Once it is, local officials are expecting to have just 90 days to review the massive document and conduct their own studies in response.

Talk of creating a "5 Cities Alliance" began back in September, according to La Cañada City Manager Mark Alexander, when staff realized it would be redundant for each city to pay for separate studies, possibly by the same firms, to produce the same findings.

"We recognized we could probably save each of the cities some expense and time if we could join together and share the costs," Alexander said. "We're hoping we get our part done before the draft EIR is released, so we're ready to go."

Alliance members have agreed to pool their resources, findings and past experiences with the 710 expansion project, which has been discussed in public forums for decades. Requests for proposals (RFPs) from potential contractors were due Feb. 28, and hiring decisions will soon be made, Alexander said.

Each Alliance city has contributed $50,000 toward the consultants, who will study transportation, air quality, soils geology and safety aspects of the EIR at large, and the proposed tunnel option in particular.

Although Metro/Caltrans are examining several alternatives to an above-ground completion of the freeway, currently disconnected from Alhambra to Pasadena, officials are most worried about the impact of a dual-bore tunnel, which would allow the passage of big trucks and possibly charge motorists a hefty toll, according to Ann Wilson, a La Cañada senior management analyst who also sits on the 710 Technical Advisory Committee.

"I don't even know where to begin to tell you all our concerns on this," Wilson said. "There are a multitude of concerns."

Glendale, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena all have active anti-710 expansion citizens' groups and, with La Cañada on board, might have formed the 5 Cities Alliance as an advocacy group against the proposed tunnel option rather than its current form, a cost- and data-sharing group. The inclusion of Pasadena in the alliance has prevented that, Wilson said.

Pasadena City Council has decided to reserve judgment on the matter until the EIR findings have been studied. That's because in 2001, voters passed Measure A, an initiative that cemented the city's support of the 710 extension, repealable only by another popular vote against it.

La Cañada Councilman Don Voss, who sits on the 710 Stakeholders Outreach Advisory Committee, said it's possible the 5 Cities Alliance might someday become an advocacy group, or inspire a multicity alliance against the tunnel option.

For now, however, the group is simply a partnership of cities with shared concerns and limited time.

"We've all come to realize our issues are common, or at least compatible, and we should seek opportunities to level our resources together," Voss said. "In this case, five heads are better than one."

METRO EXPRESSLANES


Sent via email, March 5, 2014

 


 Email masthead image




We want your feedback on Metro ExpressLanes.

Metro invites you to make your voice heard on the future of the Metro ExpressLanes Program by attending one or more of the public hearings below. Content presented at each of the meetings will be identical. Free parking is available on site at each location.

Saturday, March 22, 2014, 10am – 12pm
Council Chamber at City Hall
1700 W 162nd St
Gardena, CA 90247
Served by Gardena Bus Lines 1x, 2 and 3

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 6pm – 8pm        
El Monte Community Center
3130 Tyler Av
El Monte, CA 91731       
Served by Metro Bus Line 176 and Foothill Transit Line 486

Thursday, March 27, 2014, 6pm – 8pm Civic Center Library
3301 Torrance Bl
Torrance, CA 90503
Served by Torrance Transit Lines 1, 2 and 6

Monday, March 31, 2014, 6pm – 8pm Los Angeles Union Station
Fred Harvey Room
800 North Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Served by Metro Red, Purple, and Gold Lines, Amtrak, Metrolink, Metro Bus Lines 40, 68, 70, 71, 76, 78, 79, 485, 487, 733, 745, Metro Silver Line, Santa Monica Rapid 10 and Foothill Transit Silver Streak

Thursday, April 3, 2014, 6pm – 8 pm
Inglewood City Hall
Community Room
1 W Manchester Bl
Inglewood, CA 90301
Served by Metro Bus Lines 40, 111, 115, 212, 215 and 740

Saturday, April 5, 2014, 10am – 12pm
West Covina Civic Center
1444 W Garvey Av
West Covina, CA 91790
Served by: Foothill Transit Lines 178, 185, 272, 281 and Silver Streak           

Please submit comments by April 7, 2014 to:
Mail:                                                                    
Metro, Congestion Reduction Demonstration                                                
One Gateway Plaza – MS 99-25-1
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Email:                                                        
expresslanes@metro.net
Please enter “It’s About Time” in the subject line.      

All Metro meetings are held in ADA accessible facilities. Spanish translation will be provided at all meetings. Mandarin translation will be provided at the meetings in El Monte, Los Angeles, and West Covina. Other ADA accommodations and translations are available by calling Kim Le at 323.669.7651 at least 72 hours in advance.

Los Angeles tops list of US cities with worst traffic, report says

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=resources/traffic&id=9455311

By Carollyn Nguyen, March 5, 2014


Traffic is seen backed up on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Los Angeles in this undated file photo.

 Traffic is seen backed up on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Los Angeles in this undated file photo.


  It may not come as a surprise, but Los Angeles has once again topped a list of major U.S. cities with the worst traffic. 

According to INRIX's seventh annual Traffic Scorecard Report, drivers nationwide wasted an average of 47 hours in traffic a year in major cities, and it's only expected to get worse.

Los Angeles was the worst with an average of 64 hours wasted in traffic in 2013 -- that's an 8.5 percent increase compared to 2012.

Honolulu followed close behind with 60 wasted hours, an 18 percent increase. San Francisco came in third with 56 hours, a 13 percent increase.

According to the study, the Los Angeles area's freeway system is more congested than that of any other city in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 INRIX says the reason for the congestion is the improved economy. It says cities experiencing economic growth and employment are the ones seeing increased traffic. In 2013, 61 U.S. cities saw increased congestion compared to just six cities in 2012.

INRIX says if economic growth continues this year, drivers can expect more delays and longer commute times. Traffic congestion costs the U.S. $100 billion every year.

Plan To Kill California High-Speed Rail Project Clears 1st Hurdle To Landing On Ballot

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/03/04/plan-to-kill-california-high-speed-rail-project-clears-first-hurdle-to-landing-on-ballot/

March 4, 2014



 Artist rendering of a California High-Speed Rail trail. (CA High-Speed Rail Authority)


SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) – Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday that backers of a plan to end the California high-speed rail project had the green light to begin collecting signatures in an effort to get an initiative on the ballot.

According to Bowen’s office, the measure “Prevents the issuance and sale of the remaining amount of high-speed rail bonds previously approved by the voters to initiate construction of a high-speed rail system. Authorizes the Legislature to redirect any unspent high-speed rail bond proceeds away from high-speed rail purposes, to repay outstanding high-speed rail bonds. Prevents state from incurring additional debt, spending any federal, state, or local funds, or entering into new contracts for the high-speed rail project.”

Proponents of the measure, which was submitted by Republican Ventura County State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, now have 150 days to circulate their petition. They will need 504,760 valid signatures, which equates to five percent of the 2010 gubernatorial election total, to get the issue on the November ballot.

The $68 billion project has faced a number of hurdles, including funding. Two court rulings last year clouded the financial future of the system. One of those prevented the state from selling $8.6 billion in bonds that it had intended to use to pay its share of the project. The federal government has awarded $3.5 billion in grants to the project, including $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money, which requires a dollar-for-dollar match and must be spent by 2017.

Support for the plan has also been slipping among prominent democrats. Last month, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, once a strong supporter of California’s high-speed rail project, told a conservative radio show hot that he no longer backs the bullet train and would like to see the money diverted to other projects.

That slip in support appears to be mirrored statewide, where a poll last fall revealed that the majority of California voters are now against the project.

Insider information reveals Bertha's ongoing woes

http://www.komonews.com/news/business/Insider-information-reveals-Berthas-woes-248312451.html?tab=video&c=y

By Jon Humbert, March 3, 2014

Video link:

 http://www.komonews.com/news/business/Insider-information-reveals-Berthas-woes-248312451.html?tab=video&c=y


SEATTLE -- New documents reveal it's going to be an uphill climb for Bertha down underground.

The Problem Solvers obtained hundreds of internal emails, reports, documents and schematics and they paint no easy task for WSDOT and the contractors, Seattle Tunnel Partners.

In a "tunnel update" report ten days after the December 7 stoppage, there appeared to be problems in coordination out at the dig site.

"There is no clear point person from STP out there making decisions about surveying existing utilities, layout, or changes to the plans. The confusion this creates is causing this work to take longer than it should," the report reads.

In January, a construction oversight supervisor wrote that "it appears that WSDOT and STP are not on the same page regarding what is expected from this process."

The same week, a different contractor tasked with compiling reports sent repeated emails trying to get an answer about where to look for information in one centralized location.

She wrote "nothing's readily apparent" when searching for critical information.

But these problems and the blockage are just the latest issues. Bertha wouldn't have been on track anyway.

Another internal report shows that Bertha appears to have never been on schedule at all. A blue line on a graph shows a deviation below STP's allotted timeframe to get the tunnel bored by October of 2014. The current timeline is flat lining since the stoppage.

STP referred all of questions to WSDOT. The department said it is going to look into some of these issues and provide more detail soon. The company focusing on the damaged seals, Hitachi Zosen, should have a repair plan in the next few days.

You can thank Warren Buffett for many of those exploding oil trains

http://grist.org/news/you-can-blame-warren-buffett-for-many-of-those-exploding-oil-trains/

By Lisa Hymas, March 4, 2014


 Warren Buffett


We’ve written a lot about the dangers of shipping extra-flammable oil in flimsy rail cars that are prone to puncture and explode. Turns out you can blame a fair bit of the problem on billionaire investor Warren Buffett. As the Sightline Institute’s blog reports, “Arguably, he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail.” More from the post:
Most people don’t realize it, but the tank cars that carry crude oil are not owned by the railroads that run them and are only rarely owned by the shippers who use them. In fact, roughly 80 percent of all the tank cars registered in North America are owned by companies that lease the tank cars to shippers. … These lessors … are the ones ultimately responsible for the fact that that the vast majority of oil trains today are largely composed of older models so riddled with obvious flaws that federal safety investigators have for years urged the entire fleet be retrofitted. …

Not only have they avoided pulling the hazardous DOT-111 tank cars out of service to retrofit them, but they have opposed and delayed meaningful federal regulation at every turn.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment group is the biggest player in the tank car leasing business with around 40 percent of the market through its Marmon Group subsidiary, which owns both Union Tank Car Company (UTLX) and Procor Limted. … The next biggest player, GATX Corp, is scarcely more than half the size. …
Buffett is also a major player in the railroad side of oil-by-rail. Berkshire Hathaway has full ownership of BNSF Railway Company, and BNSF is the biggest railroad player in the Bakken oil region … And BNSF isn’t some side line business for Berkshire Hathaway; it’s a major part of the firm, making up 13 percent of revenues in 2012.
To protect that business, Buffett’s companies and the industry groups they belong to do a lot of lobbying against regulations — very effective lobbying. Sightline points out that other modes of transportation would never get away with such an abysmal safety record:
It doesn’t take much scrutiny to see that oil trains get special treatment. After all, if a jet plane has a battery fire problem, regulators immediately pull it from service and will ground the entire fleet until the manufacturer makes modifications to reduce the risk of fire. If an auto regularly bursts into flame upon impact, the feds issue a recall and mandate retrofits for all the cars with the defect. Yet despite explosion after deadly explosion — and safety report after federal safety report — government regulators, at the urging of the industry groups that represent Buffett’s holdings, have allowed unsafe DOT-111s tank cars to haul crude oil and ethanol.
Buffett admitted this week that “it’s more dangerous to move certain types of crude, certainly, than we thought previously,” but there’s no sign that he’s going to take action to make it any less dangerous.

You might think a man who is making so much money shipping oil by rail would oppose Keystone XL, but Buffett isn’t worried about the pipeline cutting into his business. From The Washington Post:
Buffett … said during a CNBC interview Monday he thought the controversial project was a “good idea for the country.”

Buffett, whose company has a major stake in the railroad company BNSF, said he did not see the pipeline’s construction as a major problem for rail firms. “It’s not that big a competitor,” he said.
Thanks to the epic oil boom, there’s plenty of crude to go around.

Apple’s CarPlay: The smart car wars are getting serious

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/03/apples-carplay-the-smart-car-wars-are-getting-serious/

By Hayley Tsukayama, March 3, 2014

For a video:

 http://wapo.st/1q2b5xB

Apple's amping up its investment in the connected car world. No, Siri's not going to drive for you, but she will be at your beck and call via a button in the steering wheel, the firm announced Monday.

Siri, along with features such as Apple Maps, music controls and access to messaging will be coming to some Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Ferarri  by way of new software from Apple. Called CarPlay, the system will also read you your text messages as well as let you respond to them with a message or call of your own from behind the wheel. The integration gives drivers a way to stay apprised of what's going on with their digital lives without having to take their hands off of the wheel, or their eyes off the road.

The announcement is more than a rebranding of the "iOS in the Car" software the firm announced last year at its developers' conference — a feature already in some Chevy models. Apple also announced it will be bringing the technology to several other manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Subaru and Toyota. The first CarPlay vehicles will start shipping this year, the company said.

Cars have long been pegged as the next major battleground for consumer tech companies looking to bring their smart technologies to more parts of consumers' lives. At the International CES show in Las Vegas this year, Google announced a smart car partnership with Audi, to put its Android operating system in select models of the German firm's 2014 line. Microsoft has had a partnership with Ford for its "Sync" program, though it has reportedly lost that contract to BlackBerry's QNX  division, which has been building smart systems for the dashboard for years.

Recent Trends in Bus and Rail Ridership

  Evidence suggests expanded rail operations produce higher ridership gains than more bus service.

http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/

By Yonah Freemark, March 3, 2014


In researching the article I wrote last week for the Atlantic Cities on bus rapid transit (BRT), I wanted to provide a basic piece of evidence that offered support for the idea that typical bus operations were not offering the sort of service that attracted riders effectively. My sense (hardly a unique perspective, of course) was that bus services in cities around the country are often simply too slow and too unreliable for many people to choose them over automobile alternatives. Rail, particularly in the form of frequent and relatively fast light and heavy rail, may be more effective in attracting riders, but so might, the article hypothesizes, BRT services, which provide many of the service improvements offered by rail.

To provide such evidence, I compared ridership growth between 2001 and 2012 on urban bus and rail services on the ten U.S. transit networks that had rail routes in 2001 and did not expand them significantly during that period, as shown in the following chart. I excluded cities with rapidly growing rail networks, such as Los Angeles or Portland, under the presumption that the installation of a new rail line may result in a considerable shift from bus to rail simply because of changes in service patterns resulting from the opening of that line (e.g., riders may be encouraged to take rail rather than bus because certain bus routes are eliminated or re-routed with the opening).

Ridership change, bus versus rail, 2001 to 2012

The chart’s data — based on a limited sample of information — show that nine of ten urban rail and bus systems saw higher ridership gains along their rail routes than their bus routes (or less loss). The only exception noted here is Buffalo, whose bus routes saw a higher jump than the city’s light rail line. The conclusion we can take from this compelling, if limited, data point is that rail services do seem to be providing a greater benefit to passengers than buses do.*

Similarly, as the following chart demonstrates, when evaluating growth of ridership by mode as a share of overall system growth, the evidence suggests that rail lines, new or not, are more effective in contributing to building overall transit ridership than bus services (a slightly different metric than the above chart, which simply compares ridership by mode in 2001 with same-mode ridership in 2012). Of the 27 systems shown here, the rail lines of 22 of them contributed a higher proportion of ridership growth than the bus lines.

Ridership change as a percentage of overall change, bus versus rail, 2001 to 2012

(To explain this graph, imagine a hypothetical transit system with 100 million riders in 2001 and 120 million in 2012. Of that 20% growth, 15 million additional riders can be attributed to rail and 5 million to buses; this would produce a 15% “contribution” from rail and 5% contribution from buses, which would be graphed here. In a real-world example, Boston’s MBTA increased its urban ridership from 314 million in 2001 to 360 million in 2012; of that growth, 41.4 million riders were added to rail and 3.7 million were added to bus lines. Therefore rail produced a 13% “contribution” (i.e., 41.4/314) and bus a 1% contribution.)

There is no question that this conclusion about the relative merits of rail in inducing ridership increase is a frequently promoted idea among advocates for rail expansion. A quick review of ridership changes in many major cities is enough to articulate this point. For example, as the following chart shows, in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, the rate of ridership increase on rail services (not including commuter rail) has been far higher than on bus services over the past decade.

Ridership change in three cities, 2001 to 2012

This comparison, however, is not adequately to say definitively (if a blog can ever do so) that rail produces more effective ridership growth than bus services. It doesn’t take much investigation to find that between 2001 and 2012, Los Angeles dramatically expanded its rail network, adding two new light rail lines. Meanwhile, though Chicago’s ‘L’ rail network saw no extensions, bus services were curtailed dramatically thanks to a difficult funding environment resulting from the recession.

What, then, is the interplay between a city’s investment in added transit services by bus or rail and the resulting ridership changes by mode?

To begin to evaluate this question, I compared the ridership data presented above (from the American Public Transportation Association) with vehicle revenue hour data (from the National Transit Database). Vehicle revenue hours can be used as a proxy for service provided.** In theory, if no other variables change, an increase in revenue hours should result in increasing ridership, simply because people are more likely to ride if frequencies are higher. Response to increased service, though, may vary depending on whether bus or rail services are being altered.

The following chart shines some light onto this question by considering the 27 transit systems mentioned above. The x axis indicates the change in bus or rail revenue hours as a share of total change between 2001 and 2012; the y axis indicates the change in bus or rail ridership as a share of total change.

The linear correlation between service increases (or declines) and ridership change is stronger for rail services (r-squared of 0.51) than buses (0.40) for this admittedly limited sample. But the overall conclusion, illustrated by the trendlines, seems to show that increasing revenue hours on rail produces higher ridership gains than on buses. The trendlines indicate that, on average, a 20% increase in revenue hours would produce a 10% increase in bus ridership and a 27% increase in rail ridership. In other words, rail appears to be more than twice as effective in generating ridership growth than traditional bus service.

Service change versus ridership change, bus and rail, 2001 to 2012

I reexamined these results with a different time period, from 1996 to 2007, comparing changes in bus and rail service hours with ridership. These comparisons (among a smaller sample of 22 systems, most of them the same) provided a similar result, though with stronger correlations and even stronger evidence of ridership response to rail service growth versus bus service growth. In both cases, rail service improvements produce higher-than-proportional increases in ridership on average whereas bus improvements produce lower-than-proportional increases in ridership.

Service change versus ridership change, bus and rail, 1996 to 2007
This review provides a preliminary and small-sample look at the relative attractiveness of bus and rail services. Clearly these data cannot be extrapolated to assert a “guarantee” that rail service improvements are more effective in generating ridership than bus service improvements. Moreover, other factors, such as changes in bus routes in response to rail openings or other changes, must be considered but are not here.

But these data do at least imply that there is a strong preference for rail services over bus, and that from a policy standpoint, ridership is more likely to grow with increases in rail service. Riders respond when they’re offered better service!

————
* I do not consider the impact of BRT lines in this analysis (which, you might note, should put at least an asterisk on the hypothesis I articulate in the Atlantic Cities piece) because of the limited BRT implementation thus far and the fact that most current “BRT” provides mediocre service improvements that do not parallel the advantages of rail.

** There are other metrics that can also be used to measure service provided, such as vehicle revenue miles or vehicles in service. In all cases, a “vehicle” is either a bus or a rail car. A train is made up of multiple vehicles.

Drought linked to polluted winter air

Lack of rainfall, along with low winds and stagnant conditions that trapped pollution near the ground, contributed to increase in soot, officials say.


http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-0305-winter-air-20140305,0,1205897.story#axzz2v6O4v32X

By Tony Barboza, March 4, 2014
 
 Drought linked to polluted air
 
 An adult and youngster are silhouetted by the sunset while riding bikes in Azusa on Monday. The drought is being linked to an increase in air pollution this winter.


California's parched winter brought a big surge in air pollution, pushing the number of bad air days one-third higher than the previous winter and posing a serious health threat, state air quality officials said Tuesday.

Levels of haze-forming soot typically increase in winter, but this year was worse because of the persistent lack of rainfall, low winds and unusually stagnant conditions that trapped pollution close to the ground.

Karen Magliano, an assistant division chief at the California Air Resources Board, said the increase in dirty air was a weather-driven exception to a decade-long trend of improvement.

The San Joaquin Valley's air was the most polluted in the state, exceeding federal health standards for fine particulate matter for 66 days — more than half of the November-to-February winter season used by air quality regulators. The San Francisco Bay Area logged 15 bad air days over the same period, the highest in seven years.

To keep levels of the microscopic air pollutants from getting worse, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District called a record-tying 30 days of "spare the air" alerts banning residential wood-burning, up from 10 last winter. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties, issued a record 16 no-burn alerts, up from last winter's five.

Wood smoke boosts levels of fine particles, or soot, that build up in winter air because of emissions from vehicle tailpipes, diesel trucks, trains, construction equipment and industrial stacks. The pollutants pose a chronic health risk because they lodge deep in the lungs and are linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer and thousands of early deaths a year in California.

"We've really seen it quite bad this year," said Penny Newman, who heads the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in the Riverside County city of Jurupa Valley, which routinely has the highest levels of fine-particle pollution in Southern California. "A lot of us who have asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease like I do have been really struggling."

Newman questioned regulators' reliance on burn bans as a pollution-fighting tool and said they should instead require steeper emissions cuts from industrial sources. Wood burning, she said, "seems just a drop in the bucket compared to the diesel trucks and locomotives that are concentrated in our area."

Air quality officials, however, say that burning restrictions are an important and effective instrument to clean some of the dirtiest air in the nation. Wood fireplaces and stoves in millions of California homes generate enough smoke that they are one of the largest sources of winter pollution, they say.

Judge: Kings County high-speed rail lawsuit can move forward

http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/03/04/3802992/judge-kings-county-high-speed.html

By Tim Sheehan, March 4, 2014



 Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, in a 2013 file photo, listens as attorneys argue over whether he should validate the issuance of high-speed rail bonds from Proposition 1A.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/03/04/3802992/judge-kings-county-high-speed.html#storylink=cpy



 A Sacramento judge ruled Tuesday that Kings County and two of its residents can forge ahead with a challenge to the California High-Speed Rail Authority over its statewide bullet-train plans.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny denied a request by the rail agency to dismiss the second stage of a lawsuit that questions whether the state's proposed high-speed train system complies with state law.

The ruling appears to set the stage for a trial in which the two sides are expected to present a string of experts to argue over the design of the 520-mile line that would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles through the San Joaquin Valley and whether it conforms to requirements in Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.

While it's not clear when the case will be heard, the attorney representing the Kings County plaintiffs was pleased with Kenny's ruling.

"The state Attorney General argued that the case was done" following Kenny's ruling last fall over the validity of the authority's 2011 funding plan, "and we argued that it's not," said Stuart Flashman, an Oakland attorney who filed suit in late 2011 on behalf of Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda and the county's Board of Supervisors.

But, Flashman added, "the judge isn't saying anything about whether we can or can't prove our case."
Kenny already ruled last year on the first phase of the Kings County suit, determining that the rail agency violated Prop. 1A by producing a financing plan that failed to meet the requirements of the ballot measure. The plan did not adequately describe realistic sources of the estimated $31 billion needed to build the first operational portion of the system from Merced to the Los Angeles basin.
 Kenny also determined that the authority was required, as part of the financing plan, to certify that all of the environmental reviews for the entire Merced-Los Angeles operating section were completed.

Two of Kenny's rulings are already in the hands of the state's 3rd District Court of Appeal: the first piece of the Kings County lawsuit and his refusal to OK bond sales needed to pay for the first phase of the statewide project, the Madera-Fresno line.

Key issues at a trial in Part 2 of the Kings County lawsuit are likely to be the rail agency's proposal for a "blended" train system to share improved, electrified tracks on the Caltrain commuter line between San Francisco and Los Angeles -- something that some hard-core high-speed rail advocates like former judge and state Sen. Quentin Kopp say is different than what voters were promised in Prop. 1A.

Rail opponents add that the blended system will keep high-speed trains from achieving Prop. 1A's ultimate mandate for a 2-hour 40-minute nonstop ride from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles' Union Station.

The suit also alleges that the system will not be able to operate without a public subsidy, as the ballot proposition required.

Representatives for the rail authority said they believe the proposed system does comply with Prop. 1A and characterized the Kings County lawsuit as a tactic to stall the project.

"We will continue to oppose all efforts to delay the high-speed rail project and the jobs and clean transportation it will provide," said Dan Richard, chairman of the rail authority board. "Independent experts have concluded that California's high-speed rail system meets the time standards and other requirements of Proposition 1A. We are confident that the courts will uphold the high-speed rail authority's planning decisions."

Flashman said the suit is about holding the authority to its word.

"Our position is simply that if the authority want to use the bond funds, it has to build what it promised the voters," he said. "Judge Kenny's ruling means we get our day in court to prove our case. If we're successful, it will mean the authority can't use the bond funds to build their noncompliant project."

It's uncertain what immediate effect the ruling could have on the rail authority's plans to begin construction of the $68 billion statewide project with the 29-mile stretch between Madera and Fresno. The agency awarded a contract of about $1 billion last summer for contractors to design and build the section -- part of a $6 billion plan for a Central California "backbone" between Merced and Bakersfield.

The federal government has put up more than $3 billion in transportation and economic stimulus money for work in the Valley, for which the state is obligated to put up about $2.7 billion in matching money. While Prop. 1A bond money is tied up in court, the rail authority and Gov. Jerry Brown's administration are scrambling to come up with other funds to start matching the federal money, including a proposal for $250 million in money raised by auctioning "cap-and-trade" pollution-emission credits to industries.

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