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 19, 2014

California still failing to invest in sustainable transportation choices

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/aeaken/california_still_failing_to_in.html

By Amanda Eaken, March 19, 2014

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 am, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) will meet in Santa Ana, Calif.  to decide which transportation projects will receive priority funding over the next five years in the State’s Transportation Improvement Program, better known as the STIP. Given recent coverage of the State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report calling on Caltrans to better align its investments with California’s environmental goals, you might think the STIP would be an opportunity to answer the call with a diversified portfolio of investments.


Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  The $3.45 billion document being teed up for adoption this Thursday is more of the same. Of the $1.41 billion going to new projects (over $2 billion is carryover from the 2012 STIP), the STIP invests 81 percent ($1.14 billion) in road and highway projects—mostly widening them—and only 17 percent ($240 million) in transit.

And as for active transportation, just over a week ago, Caltrans’ most comprehensive household travel survey found that 18 percent of all trips in California are made by walking and biking, a near doubling since the year 2000.  On hearing these results, Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans’ director, said Based on this research, we can make good decisions about transportation that will improve mobility, air quality, and travel choices for all Californians and make our state a better place to live and work.”

Sounds great, right? And yet the STIP proposes just 2 percent of its funding to support bicycling and walking trips.

What’s worse—some of the projects in this plan face strong local opposition, such as the Centennial Corridor in Bakersfield, proposed to receive a $33 million allocation. This project—for which the City of Bakersfield plans to borrow a $270 million loan—would literally demolish hundreds of homes in one of Bakersfield’s most historic neighborhoods. This kind of project can hardly be what Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly had in mind when on January 30th he said “More transportation choices, efficient land use, highway preservation, sustainable movement of people and freight—these now are the order of the day.”

To be fair, neither Caltrans nor the California Transportation Commission bears full responsibility for these shortcomings. The great majority of the funds in the STIP are nominated from the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) who are charged with creating Sustainable Communities Strategies under SB 375 to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. So for a better STIP the next time around, we also need regions to put forth projects more aligned with the goals of SB 375.

Still, as the CTC debates this topic on Thursday, we hope they will commit to the following:
  • Prior to the next STIP in 2016, adopt performance measures for the STIP that support statewide sustainability, health, and equity goals, including a comprehensive reform of the development and review process for the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP)—the piece of the STIP that is allocated by the state—as well as the Regional Transportation Improvement Programs (RTIPs). 
 
  • Provide a forum where the California Transportation Commission can clearly communicate to the public how STIP investments are contributing to climate goals and benefitting the state, and where Californians feel empowered—from the outset of the process—to ensure that their needs are recognized through planning and investments. By making the process transparent and accessible to the average citizen, the Commission can help ensure that plans and investments accurately reflect what the public wants and needs from its transportation system. 
As the SSTI report noted, Caltrans, like other state Departments of Transportation, was organized to build a network of trunk highways linking cities—a mission which it has executed faithfully. But as the report also noted, 1972 was a long time ago. California has new priorities in statute—including the reduction of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions (SB 375), and the development of multi-modal transportation networks (SB 743).  Rather than continue down the path of road-widening, which supports only auto travel, leads to future congestion and higher road maintenance costs, and undermines progress toward better urban and natural environments, California needs a better game plan. SB 375 has resulted in a lot of local innovation and an elevated dialogue at the regions. But we also need to pay attention to how the money is actually being allocated—the STIP is where the rubber hits the road.

Air Pollution May Cause Genetic Harm in Kids, China Study Finds

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-19/air-pollution-may-cause-genetic-harm-in-kids-china-study-finds.html

By Bloomberg News, March 19, 2014

Air pollution led to genetic changes that may have sapped learning skills in children whose mothers were exposed to a Chinese coal-fired power plant before it was shuttered a decade ago, researchers found.

Babies born in the southwestern Tongliang county just before the plant was shut in 2004 had significantly lower levels of a protein crucial to brain development in their cord blood than those conceived later, a March 19 report in the Plos One journal said. They also had poorer learning and memory skills when tested at age two, the study by Columbia University and Chongqing Medical University found.

“I wasn’t anticipating such a clear difference when we compared the first and second cohorts, and this shows how much of an impact effective policies can have on local populations,” said Columbia’s Deliang Tang, lead author of the report.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence on the health fallouts of China’s pollution crisis, which has sparked public outrage and forced its leaders to pledge stronger efforts to protect the environment. Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer and is linked to higher risk of bladder cancer, a World Health Organization agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.

Officials in Tongliang, a town of 800,000 near Chongqing city, shut down the power plant, based near the town center, in May 2004 and replaced it with the national grid’s electrical system, according to the report. The study analyzed data on the children until they were two.

Apartment Complex

The old power plant has been replaced by an apartment complex with five towers, amid tree-lined walkways, playgrounds, and an amphitheater. On a day in mid-March, retirees played bridge around a makeshift table, while children skipped rope and rode on bicycles.

Tongliang resident Yang Chuntian, who was pregnant with her first son in 1996, says she wasn’t aware of the ill effects of air pollution. She lived near the coal plant.

As a toddler, her now 18-year-old son fell sick often with headaches that made him dull and unresponsive, said Yang, a store assistant in a bicycle shop. “I don’t know if that’s because of the smoke from the plant, but he’s fine now. And we’re a lot more careful nowadays -- about pollution, about the safety of the food we eat.”

Zhang Mingwei, a retired carpenter who lives in the complex that replaced the plant, still remembers markets selling soot-coated vegetables and neighbors complaining of laundry covered by coal-dust.
“We could hear the sirens whenever the plant started up, and then we’ll see black smoke coming out of the chimney,” said 72-year-old Zhang.

Main Polluter

The plant had been the county’s main source of air pollutants when it was shuttered. It spat out 2000 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air, 8 times U.S. emissions standards at the time, and included particulate matter, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and heavy metals, the report said.

Researchers, informed of the plant’s impending shutdown, in 2002 recruited 150 non-smoking Tongliang mothers and their newborn, and another group of 158 mothers and children in 2005. Umbilical cord and maternal blood were collected at delivery, and the children were evaluated on neurodevelopment when they were two years old.

Evaluators looked at the children’s muscle coordination that dictate activities such as ability to flip pages in a book, stack cubes, or climb steps without help. They were also tested for adaptive and language abilities, such as recognizing their own names and forming at least three word sentences.

Nerve Cells

An earlier report from the study, published in the Environmental Pollution journal last November, showed the 2002 cohort of babies had smaller head sizes compared with the 2005 group, a condition that persisted into childhood. The Plos One report found average levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF, proteins involved in the growth of nerve cells, were significantly higher in the 2005 group.

Higher levels of the protein are positively associated with neurocognitive development, which “provides further evidence of the direct benefits to children’s health as a result of the coal plant shut down, supporting clean energy and environmental policies in China and elsewhere”, the authors wrote.

Columbia University is currently following up with a larger study of children in Taiyuan, a city of 4 million in northern Shanxi province, Tang said.

On-Off Switch

Developing fetuses can inherit the harmful effects of environmental pollution as that’s when the cells of organs such as the brain and heart are starting to develop. That warrants further research into the mechanisms, said Liming Bao, a professor of pathology at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Genetic mutations could get passed along and have a long term impact, and when there’s damage to the cells, it’s difficult to reverse,” said Bao, who helped Children’s Hospital of Chongqing Medical University set up a molecular medicine unit in 2007. “It’s not something that you can switch on or switch off.”

Metro fare change is needed to keep expanding transit options rolling: Guest commentary

http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20140317/metro-fare-change-is-needed-to-keep-expanding-transit-options-rolling-guest-commentary

By Arthur T. Leahy, March 17, 2014

On March 29, Metro will hold a public hearing on fare changes. The issue at hand isn’t about how much we should charge for bus and rail service. It’s about sweeping changes in how riders use and connect with their ever growing transit network.

Twenty-four years ago the only public transit option in Los Angeles County was taking the bus. Today, thanks to voters who approved local transit sales taxes, Metro runs more than 2,200 buses and six rail lines on 87 miles of track, and five new rail projects crisscrossing the county will be under construction within a year. About 400,000 passengers board Metro trains on an average weekday and rail ridership is growing exponentially. Metro also is investing more than $1 billion to overhaul the Blue Line, subway and other existing lines to ensure safe and reliable travel for our customers for decades to come.

As a former bus operator, I understand that rail is just one transit option. Buses remain the backbone of our system.

That’s why the first of 550 new buses began entering service a few weeks ago, with an option for us to purchase 300 more. That’s why we recently opened the modern El Monte Transit Center. That’s why we extended the Orange Line busway to Chatsworth and developed the popular Silver Line freeway express bus between the South Bay and San Gabriel Valley. And that’s why we’re building a new state-of-the-art bus maintenance facility in downtown Los Angeles near our Union Station transit hub.

Buses and trains don’t compete. They complement each other to enhance connectivity for our customers, attract new riders and ease traffic and air pollution. And our system of buses and rail also includes Metrolink and more than a dozen municipal bus carriers.

While Angelenos still love their cars, 2 million county residents voted for Measure R in 2008, the half-cent sales tax dedicated to expanding our public transportation system. You voted for public transit options.

 And we’re delivering those options. Within two years the Expo Line will connect Santa Monica with downtown Los Angeles, the Gold Line will be extended to Azusa and more projects including the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project are in construction or pre-construction phases.

Even with more transit options, Metro fares will remain among the lowest in the nation, but we can’t sustain the current fare structure with riders only paying a quarter of what it costs to operate buses and trains. That is far lower than many other transit agencies such as San Diego (41 percent), Chicago (44 percent) and New York (53 percent).

In two years, Metro faces a $37 million operating deficit that will balloon to $225 million in 10 years. We’re squeezing every penny we can from local sales taxes and tapping dwindling operating assistance from state and federal coffers to make up the balance between what our riders pay and the cost of delivering service.

We cut overhead, eliminated non-contract jobs, beefed up efforts to curb fare evasion, and boosted productivity — but it doesn’t pencil out. And, no, we can’t legally siphon monies from voter approved Measure R street and highway projects or stop the rail program.

Without additional revenue, the momentum in delivering new transit and weaning solo drivers from behind the wheel will come to a screeching halt. Bus service would be cut and we couldn’t open new rail lines under construction.

Fare changes are necessary. Staff has proposed two options to gradually get us to a point in six years where riders would cover one third of our operating costs. Again, it’s not just about raising fares. Staff also is proposing free transfers within a 90 minute period instead of charging double for transfers as is now the case. This will encourage customers to more fully use their investment in the growing transit system.

 We’ve held off as long as possible recommending fare changes. If the Metro Board of Directors approves, this would be the fourth time in 19 years fares were raised. But we have accomplished much in the past two decades in giving a traffic-weary public more transportation options. By making tough choices now, we will continue to transform Los Angeles from the car capital of the world to a world-class transit capital.

Arthur T. Leahy is CEO of Metro.

What Will Become of San Rafael School??? We Need Your Input

From Carla Riggs, March 19, 2014

Below is a reminder from the San Rafael Neighborhood Association.

Please, please attend this very important meeting at our San Rafael School Monday evening, March 24th, 7PM.  The PUSD is closing down our neighborhood school. They will either lease to school, board it up and let it sit, or sell the site. 

The school buildings sit on (in)active earthquake fault lines.  California law makes it illegal to use tax monies to upgrade schools because of this.

If we have to lease our school, what would you like to see in its place?  Your opinion is valued. Please make your presence heard Monday night.






Contact: 

Logo 

SCHOOL CLOSURE
PUBLIC HEARING
SAN RAFAEL SCHOOL AUDITORIUM 

S R N A 
News Bulletin:

PUSD's 7-11 Committee Asks for
Neighborhood Voices on Future Use of
the San Rafael School Site

Meet at School Auditorium
Monday, March 24th, 7:00 pm


Pasadena Unified School District is planning for the closure of San Rafael Elementary School due to seismic faults.

Monday February 24th the 7-11 Committee, commissioned by the school board to weigh the "limits of tolerance" for alternative uses for the site, voted to recommend that the board seek a tenant to lease the property and buildings.

Adaptive reuse of the site potentially will introduce new impacts to the neighborhood and affect property values, good or bad. SRNA supports a cautious approach to this transition and a full understanding of zoning allowances.

San Rafael Elementary School 
1090 Nithsdale Road

Please plan to join your neighbors for
this important meeting.


Logo
The San Rafael Neighborhoods Association (SRNA) mission is to enhance and maintain the character and quality of all San Rafael neighborhoods through advocacy and an activated community.

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

Energy Industry Overestimated Cost Of Pollution Controls: Study

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/19/coal-emissions-regulation_n_4993075.html

By Kate Sheppard, March 19, 2014




 Main Entry Image

 In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. A new report from the Center for American Progress argues that the cost of pollution regulations is often much lower than industry estimates.

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the Center for American Progress examines some historical industry claims about how much new pollution regulations would cause electricity prices to spike, and finds that industry estimates have been higher than the reality.

The report is meant to draw an analogy to the current fight over power plant pollution, specifically greenhouse gas pollution. The EPA rolled out new rules last September. Opponents of the rules have argued that the regulations will cause an increase in electricity prices. The new CAP report draws on past examples of industry groups using similar arguments against pending environmental regulations.

"Recently, these industries have again predicted that government pollution limits would result in skyrocketing electricity prices. However, their record as prognosticators is quite poor," the report contends. "Their past predictions of doom were wrong, and so are their current claims that the Environmental Protection Agency's, or EPA's, first carbon-pollution cuts for power plants would be disastrous."

The report notes that the utilities opposed the Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1977. It cites statements drawn from the Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1977 where, during the debate over the latter law, "electric utilities and other industries complained that scrubbers [to cut air pollution] were unreliable and costly."

The report focuses most closely on predictions made in 1989 by the Edison Electric Institute, an association representing investor-owned electric utilities, regarding pollution regulations to address acid rain. Those rules, which Congress passed as part of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, limited emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants. The report cites EEI's claims at the time that the rules would increase electricity prices up to 13.1 percent between 1990 and 2009. Edward L. Addison, then the president of Southern Company, testified to a House committee on behalf of EEI, arguing that those predictions likely "underestimate the rate shock that would actually occur." EEI predicted that electricity rates would increase in 46 out of 48 states it studied.

CAP's analysis found that the rates were lower than EEI's predictions in 36 of those states. It found that 32 states actually had lower prices by 2009, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1990. CAP found that even in 10 heavily coal-dependent states, eight had electricity rates that were lower in 2009 than they were in 1990 (when adjusted for inflation). Overall, they found that the EEI prediction was an average of 16 percent higher than the reality across the 48 states. In Missouri, their prediction was 63 percent higher than reality, according to CAP's analysis.

Brian Wolff, a senior vice president at EEI, said that its predictions were in line with others at the time, including estimates from the EPA, and that a variety of market factors contributed to the differences -- not just the cost of pollution controls. "EPA's own analyses in the late 1980's projected similar costs to those for EEI," said Wolff. "So it wasn't just industry overestimating the costs of what would become the acid rain program."

Wolff noted that industry research has also found that costs were lower than anticipated, and that some of the decreases were due to cheaper coal -- a conclusion also reached by the EPA.

The model for the acid rain program was also novel at the time, Wolff said. "Their reports were written before the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments actually were implemented, so no one had any experience with a major cap-and-trade program at that point," he said. EEI also supported the cap-and-trade legislation that the House passed in 2009.

CAP argues that the acid rain example is analogous to current predictions for the consequences of the new rules on greenhouse gas emissions. "This analysis demonstrates yet again that coal and utility companies' predictions of huge rate hikes from pollution reduction requirements are wrong," said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at CAP. "The media, government officials, and the public should ignore future attempts to frighten us since such claims are solely designed to slow and weaken public health protections."

Clean air is life itself

If humans can breathe and share air, they don’t need to struggle with one another. Contributing to pollution is a crime against humanity

By Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder, March 19, 2014


Air pollution is deteriorating in many places around the world. In Shanghai, such is the oppressive smog, covering the city with a toxic cloud, that authorities have had to instal gigantic TV screens to broadcast the sunrise. Salt Lake City has such poor air quality that chemicals in the atmosphere not only give it a different hue, but leave residents with a foul-smelling, metallic taste in their mouths. Paris has experienced some of its worst air pollution in recent days, while in the European Union as a whole, even at permitted concentrations, industrial and traffic-related pollution is harming cardiovascular health.

Is clean air, along with drinkable water, becoming one of the most precious resources on the planet? Or should we reframe the question and challenge the thinking that converts everything, including the very air we breathe, into economically measurable reserves and commodities?
Today we live in a world so complicated and, moreover, organised so differently according to the cultures we belong to, that encountering each other as humans has become almost impossible. However, instead of asking what it means to be human, alleged experts discuss at great length how to establish coexistence among people. No doubt such an objective is both relevant and urgent, but these experts in peace stray far from a solution, getting lost in technical detail without considering the universal sharing of life, from which we could start again. Even if it makes sceptics laugh, we have no viable solution but to experience the universal human condition as that of a living being, standing naked in the garden that the Earth is. With every breath we take, we expose our lungs to the outside world, regardless of all the barriers we have erected between the environment and ourselves. The resistance to envisaging this alternative is due to a nihilistic preference for certain powers — be they material or spiritual, capitalist or cultural — over life itself. Such a stance is both suicidal and murderous, even though few people actually intend it to be so negative. How can they recover their taste for life and learn ways of cultivating it, in themselves, with others, and in the natural world?
The fact that public parks become crowded as soon as the sun shines proves that people long to breathe in green, open spaces. And, in these surroundings, they are generally both peaceful and peaceable. It is rare to see people fighting in a garden. If human beings can breathe and share air, they do not need to struggle with one another. And consequently, it appears to be a basic crime against humanity to contribute to air pollution.
Unfortunately, in western tradition, neither materialist nor idealist theoreticians give enough consideration to this basic condition for life. As for politicians, despite proposing curbs on pollution, they have not yet called for it to be made a crime. Wealthy countries are allowed to pollute if they pay for it.
But is our life worth anything other than money? The plant world shows us in silence what faithfulness to life consists of. It also helps us to a new beginning, urging us to care for our breath, not only at a vital but also at a spiritual level. We must, in turn, care for it, opposing pollution that destroys both our world and that of plants. The interdependence to which we must pay the closest attention is that between ourselves and the vegetal world. Often described as “the lungs of the planet”, the woods that cover the earth offer us the gift of breathable air by releasing oxygen. As we know, rapid deforestation combined with the massive burning of fossil fuels, is an explosive recipe for an irreversible disaster.
The fight over the appropriation of resources will lead the entire planet to an abyss unless humans learn to share life, both with each other and with plants. The lesson taught by plants is that sharing life augments and enhances it, while dividing life into so-called natural or human resources diminishes it. We must come to view air, plants and ourselves as participants in the symphony of life, rather than a mesh of quantifiable objects or productive potentialities at our disposal. Perhaps then we would finally begin to live, rather than being concerned with bare survival.

At a Westside subway excavation, plenty of bones (and more) to pick

An exploratory shaft dug to assess soil conditions for future stations and tunnels has burped up a bonanza of prehistoric swag.

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-subway-fossils-20140315,0,1529095.story#axzz2wMSezPrB

By Martha Groves, March 14, 2014
 Some bones to pick on a Westside subway dig


Seventy feet below Wilshire Boulevard, cater-corner from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's street-lamp installation, fresh air roaring from giant ventilation pipes dulled the sickly sweet smell of petroleum.

Amid the clatter of jackhammers and the whine of a mini-excavator, paleontologist Kim Scott scouted the tarry muck for relics from a long-buried beach. She had plenty of choices.

Major construction on the highly anticipated Westside subway extension won't begin until next year, but an exploratory shaft dug at the corner of Ogden Drive to assess soil conditions for future stations and tunnels has burped up a bonanza of prehistoric swag. Officials had anticipated encountering a substantial cache: The dig is near the La Brea Tar Pits and features a sandy matrix with naturally occurring asphalt — a fossil haven.

Paleontologists have recovered mollusks, asphalt-saturated sand dollars, pieces of driftwood and Monterey cypress cones. For Scott, the most exciting finds have been a rock embedded with what appears to be part of a sea lion's mouth (perhaps 2 million years old) and a non-fossilized 10-foot limb from a digger pine tree that would look right at home today in Central California woodlands.

"Here on the Miracle Mile is where the best record of life from the last great ice age in the world is found," said Scott, field and laboratory director with Cogstone Resource Management, based in Orange. In the shaft, she added, "you're walking along an ice age shoreline."

The former Rancho La Brea area of Hancock Park and environs indeed features one of the world's premier paleontological troves. Over the millenniums, petroleum from once massive underground oil fields oozed to the surface, forming bogs that trapped and killed unwary animals and then preserved their skeletons.

Evidence abounds at the tar pits and the George C. Page Museum, just east of the exploratory shaft, where in the heart of urban Los Angeles scientists have uncovered remnants of dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, ground sloths and other species.

The swimming-pool-size shaft, 18 feet wide by 38 feet long, is yielding evidence from its depths of a cooler, wetter Pleistocene climate of 100,000 to 330,000 years ago, when Pacific Ocean waves lapped over what is now the bustling Miracle Mile. Materials from the upper 40 feet of the shaft range from modern era to 50,000 years old. Below that is "near shore" material from 100,000 to at least 330,000 years old, Scott said.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working with Cogstone and Page Museum researchers to identify and preserve the representative sampling.

John M. Harris, the Page's chief curator, said the area, though rich in fossils, is nonetheless a finite source. "It's hit or miss," he said. "Anything still in the ground is very important."

Although the area is protected, LACMA years ago was granted dispensation to build an underground garage to replace an old May Co. parking structure. In 2009, the Page announced the discovery three years earlier of the largest known cache of fossils from the last ice age. In one spectacular instance, a worker scraped his bulldozer across what turned out to be a nearly intact skeleton of a Columbian mammoth with 10-foot-long tusks, which researchers named Zed.

Scientists reveled in the find, given that previous discoveries in the tar pits had included only bits and pieces of mammoths. So that construction could resume as quickly as possible, paleontologists pioneered a process similar to that used to move large living trees. After identifying the edges of each of 16 deposits, they dug around and underneath them, wrapped them in heavy plastic, built wooden crates around them and lifted them out with a heavy crane.

Similar discoveries are expected once excavation begins for the Fairfax station, and scientists plan to use the same extraction method.

At this stage in the exploratory shaft, which will be twice as deep as any other previous excavation in the area, the marine finds are quite portable — geoducks, clams, snails, mussels, tusk shells. They're collected in takeout-food containers made of plastic (so that the asphalt does not stick). As for the rock that possibly contains a sea lion's tooth root, Scott explained that it probably washed out of an old formation and floated down a stream to the beach.

"Even though we're finding fossils older than what's found at La Brea, none of the identified fossils found to date are extinct," Scott said. "We can still find all the plants and animals in California."

Asphalt from an earlier descent already coated Scott's jeans, work boots and right forearm when she headed back down the steep metal steps into the hole one recent afternoon. The uneven surface at the base made it tough to balance. She stepped back with one foot, which sank immediately into ankle-deep water. Above the fresh muck, wood and shotcrete had been installed to hold back the soil.

Two miners used jackhammers to dislodge ancient layers of sticky sand mixed with silt, gravel and shells. The operator of the mini-excavator shoveled the sludge to one side of the shaft, where it would later be piled into a bin and hoisted to the surface to be loaded into a truck headed for an Azusa landfill.

Bethany Ader, another Cogstone paleontologist, scrambled up and down a slippery slope of tar sand carrying small relics. The two scientists have routinely worked 15-hour days.

Work on the shaft began last April, and workers expect to hit 75 feet by the end of March. They will then excavate an additional 2 feet to pour a concrete slab floor, said Mark Bray, resident engineer. A water pump in the floor will collect rainwater and any groundwater that enters from "weep holes" built into the shotcrete.

Once the shaft is completed, it will be covered by street grating. Over the next six months, engineers will enter the shaft periodically to check for water and assess how the soils will react during the subway tunneling and station construction.

Eventually, workers will spend about two months removing equipment and backfilling the shaft with a mixture of cement and sand. At some point years hence, commuters will walk through the subterranean station, unaware that they're surrounded by the remnants of a distant sea.

"Here in Mid-Wilshire," said Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesman, "L.A.'s prehistoric past is meeting its subway future."

Report recommends L.A. sales-tax hike to fund street repairs

City Hall advisors propose a half-cent increase to raise $4.5 billion over 15 years to fix the most damaged roads and sidewalks.

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-city-street-tax-20140319,0,3698676.story#axzz2wQTHcJJo
 
By David Zahniser, March 18, 2014
 
 
 
 Pothole More than 35% of L.A.'s streets, or 8,200 lane miles, are considered to be failing or near failing, receiving grades of D and F, a recent analysis found.

 One year after Los Angeles voters rejected a sales tax increase, the City Council is looking at trying again — this time by tying the money to the repair of the city's deteriorating network of streets.

Two high-level City Hall policy advisors recommended Tuesday that lawmakers place a half-cent tax hike on the November ballot that would generate $4.5 billion over 15 years. The proceeds, they said, would pay to fix the most severely damaged roads and sidewalks.

Passage of a tax could add momentum to Mayor Eric Garcetti's "back to basics" campaign, which focuses on upgrading basic services. The proposal also could help city leaders resolve a potentially costly disability rights lawsuit filed by wheelchair users who say buckled sidewalks block their access.

INTERACTIVE: Grading L.A.'s streets

More than 35% of L.A.'s streets, or 8,200 lane miles, are considered to be failing or near failing, receiving grades of D and F, a recent analysis found. City officials also said Tuesday in a new report that 40% of the city's sidewalks may be in need of repair.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, who wrote the report, said the proposed ballot measure would generate $3.86 billion for roads and potentially $640 million for broken sidewalks. That would allow for the reconstruction of 8,700 lane miles of streets — including some that are expected to fail over the next 15 years.

Officials do not yet know the number of miles of sidewalks that could be repaired. The sales-tax proposal would need the approval of two-thirds of voters.

Several elected officials contacted by The Times, including Garcetti, said they had not decided whether to back the proposal. Council President Herb Wesson sounded the most enthusiastic, saying a November election — which would feature contests for governor and other state offices — would mean higher turnout and a "better opportunity for victory" than a city election.

"Without a doubt … this city needs some kind of additional revenue stream for us to take care of our business," he said.

Last year, Wesson led an unsuccessful campaign for a citywide tax increase that would have imposed an extra half cent of sales tax on every dollar spent. The measure was designed to raise more than $200 million annually and help the city recover from a financial crisis sparked in part by the economic downturn.

At the time, Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino also had been pushing for a bond measure — linked to a property tax increase — to cover street repairs. They shelved their proposal to improve the prospects of the sales-tax increase. Under state law, Wesson's tax measure needed a simple majority because its proceeds would have gone to general government programs, not a specific purpose. But it still failed to win passage.

On Tuesday, a neighborhood leader who campaigned against the March 2013 sales-tax increase criticized the latest proposal.

Jack Humphreville, who writes about L.A.'s budget for the website CityWatch, said city elected officials have used money that should have gone to road repairs to fund excessive employee salaries and benefits. "They were grossly negligent over the last two decades in maintaining our infrastructure," Humphreville said.

Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said his organization is concerned about the burden a new tax could place on businesses and consumers. Toebben said he also wanted to know whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would pursue a separate sales-tax hike for transit services in 2016. "If you keep adding taxes, eventually you reach a point where people say that's just too much," he said.

If approved, the streets measure would push the city's sales tax rate to 9.5%, costing the average household an additional $91 per year, according to city officials. Lawmakers must decide by this summer if they want to pursue a sales-tax hike in November. Another option would be to hold off until 2016, when the contest for president would send turnout even higher. With road repair costs growing, "delaying is not an option," Englander said.

"A presidential year is always great," Wesson added. "But can this city wait that long? You have streets that are falling apart."

Miller and Santana, the council's policy advisors, said a sales-tax hike is preferable to the bond measure proposed two years ago. The sales-tax plan would produce 50% more revenue and spread the cost over a greater number of people, including motorists who use city roads but live elsewhere, they said.

A sales-tax hike also would allow the city to pursue a "pay-as-you-go" strategy with the repairs, Santana said. "It saves the city interest because we're not having to borrow," he said.

 

SEATTLE SOUNDINGS | Bertha loses her bearings

http://www.magnolianews.net/Content/Opinion/Columns-Editorials/Article/SEATTLE-SOUNDINGS---Bertha-loses-her-bearings/9/308/35401

By Geov Parrish, March 18, 2014


It’s not Bertha’s fault. All she’s ever wanted is to spend her life doing simple, boring things.
 
But life’s not that simple, especially when her work is managed by people as incompetent as they are greedy. And when the project they’re managing involves using technology unproven for the task of carving out a 1.7-mile tunnel behind a crumbling, old seawall and through fill soil and a century’s worth of the accumulated tunnels, pipes and utilities of a major city — the sort of mess now facing Seattle is pretty well inevitable and predictable.

Now, only 1,000 feet in to a 9,000-foot tunnel, Bertha has a work-related injury: broken seals directly caused by overwork from a contractor being pushed to finish the job as quickly and cheaply as possible. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the contractor overseeing excavation, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), won’t even give a specific estimate of when she’ll resume her burrowing until some time in early March. For now, they’ll only say it’ll be “months.”

These are the same folks, remember, who spent two months telling the public Bertha was “stuck” and that she’d “hit a pipe” when that wasn’t the problem at all. It wasn’t until early February that they finally acknowledged that Bertha, was not, in fact, stuck: She was broken — and had been since December. It’s not entirely clear why the public should trust any tunnel pronouncements coming from WSDOT or STP. 

And the tolls

Meanwhile, the commission charged with determining the proper tolling structure for the new state Route 99 tunnel really is stuck. A portion of the $3.8 billion needed to pay for the tunnel was supposed to come from tolling once the tunnel opened. But it turns out that tunnel proponents wildly overestimated what motorists would pay. 

Now, with two years of experience with a tolled SR 520 bridge — an arterial that has half the previous traffic, even though it’s much more difficult to take an alternate route to than SR 99 — tunnel planners are realizing that most motorists will just take their chances with Interstate 5 or the surface streets through downtown instead. The commission hasn’t been able to find a toll low enough that the projected rider numbers — let alone the revenue numbers — work. 

And now the project will cost much, much more. It’s not clear where that money will come from, either. (Though, as a guess, “us” is likely the correct answer.)

Opponents of the tunnel scheme predicted all of this. That plan was first priced at $1 billion, then more “realistically” budgeted at $3.8 billion and now likely to cost much, much more. Nobody knows how much more, only that every day of delay adds to the price tag. 

No promises kept

When, after a decade of dithering, elected officials and downtown business got the tunnel option pushed through — including winning a ballot measure that mostly reflected how sick the public was of the whole debate, at a point where officials were saying the tunnel would be built regardless of the vote’s outcome — a whole lot of reassurances were made: promises and projections about price and overruns, about timeline, about traffic and revenue, about the viability of the technology.

Now, with the vast majority of the work yet to be done, we already know that none of these things are playing out as promised. And, in retrospect, the objections to the cheaper, faster alternatives seem faintly ridiculous. 

Remember the primary objective to turning Alaskan Way into an at-grade thoroughfare and park? It was the gridlock that would supposedly be caused in downtown streets. It turns out we’re getting that anyway, at many more billions of dollars cost, and without the public-transit capacity.

None of these problems mattered four years ago to the real estate developers who are, as always, the primary beneficiary of huge civic projects in Seattle, and none of them matter now.
The tunnel was never about moving people and goods in a cost-effective way, any m
ore than the latest “fix” to the “Mercer Mess” was about improving the daily gridlock in South Lake Union. (It hasn’t — it’s made the gridlock worse, just as traffic engineers warned. But if you don’t mind the carbon monoxide, it’s prettier.) 

The tunnel project has already done wonders for waterfront real estate values, which was the whole point. The city and WSDOT could abandon the tunnel project right now and build the at-grade option, and it would still likely save billions (and get done sooner). 

But no city or state officials are even talking about the possibility of doing that. When it comes to maximizing real estate value on the backs of taxpayers, no price is too high to pay — just ask Paul Allen.

Poor Bertha.
From Sylvia Plummer, March 19, 2014

Mt. Blanc Tunnel Fire
(7.2 miles long tunnel, 28 feet wide, 2 lanes)

Just a  reminder to all of you what can happen in a tunnel fire.  On March 24th, 1999, 39 people died when a Belgian transport truck carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the tunnel.    

Since that fire the tunnel was refurbished in 2002 to include the following:

  • Fire-resistant stainless steel cladding fitted to walls
  • Concrete-lined pressurized emergency shelters at every 300 meters (37 in total), fitted with fire doors and connected to a safety corridor parallel to the tunnel
  • A total of 116 smoke extractors at every 100 meters
  • Heat sensors at both ends of the tunnel to detect overheated trucks before they enter the tunnel
  • Three command and control centers; the newly added central center has a round the clock firefighting team
  • More traffic lights and flashing warning signs
What does Metro's tunnel design include?   Where will the closest firefighting team be located?  The plan on the Pasadena end, is to use the City of Pasadena's Fire Department.  How long will that take to come to the rescue, and how will they enter the tunnel?  When the EIR is out, these are questions we should be asking.
 
 
 

Great danger would lurk in 710 Freeway tunnel: Letters

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/opinion/20140317/great-danger-would-lurk-in-710-freeway-tunnel-letters

March 17, 2014

arry Knapp’s recent letter on the “fiscal foolishness of the 710 Freeway tunnel study,” pointing out the fact that it can’t succeed as a toll road, is based on solid facts.

His concern that “who knows what dangers await in that tunnel?” is a legitimate one.

The safety concerns are based on solid facts. We’ve had two recent fatal tunnel occurrences in Southern California within just a few hundred yards. The heat was so intense the structures were weakened.

Visualize two or more trucks loaded with flammables blown up in a six-mile tunnel. There is no safe exit when such a holocaust ignites, and hundreds, if not thousands, would be cremated.
I won’t be one of them, since I’ll never go in that tunnel if it is constructed.

— Michael Montgomery, South Pasadena

Amtrak FY 2015 budget: “Something has to change”

http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/passenger/intercity/amtrak-fy-2015-budget-something-has-to-change%E2%80%9D.html

By William C. Vantuono, March 18, 2014

  Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman

 Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman


For its Fiscal Year 2015, which begins Oct. 1, 2014, Amtrak is requesting $1.62 billion in federal capital and operating support, an increase of approximately 16% from FY 2014 federal appropriations. But more important, said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman, fundamental changes are needed in how the U.S. government financially supports intercity passenger rail.
 
A portion of Amtrak’s annual operating profit on the Northeast Corridor, estimated at $300 million and based upon a ratio of operating revenues to operating expenses (so-called “above the rail” costs), is used to cover some costs of its state-supported and long-distance trains. This has to change, said Joe Boardman, if the NEC is to continue as “vital to the mobility, connectivity, and economy of the entire Northeast region. Continuation of current funding levels leave Northeast Corridor infrastructure vulnerable to a bigger, costlier and far more damaging failure than anything yet seen.”

“Infrastructure deterioration and changes in business patterns have reached a point where something has to change,” says Boardman. “If America wants a modern intercity passenger rail system, the problems of policy and funding must be addressed. The nation cannot afford to let a railroad (the NEC) that carries half of Amtrak’s trains and 80% of the nation’s rail commuters fall apart; the economic consequences would be devastating. A new federal policy and funding arrangement should create a significant and reliable multi-year capital investment program to reverse the decay of NEC infrastructure and support other intercity passenger rail projects. A strong federal commitment will allow Amtrak to plan and implement major multi-year projects such as replacing century-old NEC bridges and tunnels, and make critical capacity improvements such as the Gateway Program between New Jersey and New York.”

“To provide additional funding for NEC improvements, Congress should fully fund the operating and capital needs of the long-distance routes so that NEC revenues can be reinvested in the NEC,” Boardman said. “By dedicating NEC revenue to meet NEC needs, it could be leveraged to pay for debt service on loans to address the most urgent NEC infrastructure issues. It also could be used to finance other funding solutions such as public-private partnerships, grants of assistance, and state and commuter rail agreements.”

Boardman said Amtrak’s long-distance trains have been a core federal responsibility since 1971, and Congress should fulfill its obligation by funding their full cost. “Long-distance trains form the backbone of the Amtrak national system, connect small towns to major cities, support local economic development, deliver passengers to state-supported corridor trains, and conduct interstate trade and commerce,” he said. “They are vital to the communities and people they serve, and are increasingly important as airlines and bus companies abandon significant regions of America. It is clear that Americans wants a national system of intercity passenger rail, and will continue to use it in greater numbers if we can provide it. Our work over the past decade proves this, but to maintain and improve that system will require both an increase in the overall capital levels and a real federal commitment to deliver the needed financing.”

In Amtrak’s FY2015 budget request to Congress, Boardman pointed to “the work Amtrak has done to maintain our aging rail system and sustain and even improve service in the face of unprecedented natural disasters and a challenging environment. Service disruptions caused by weather and other issues cost us more than 440,000 riders and $42 million in ticket revenue. In spite of that, we set an annual ridership record of 31.6 million passengers and a ticket revenue record of $2.1 billion. That we did this in spite of serious obstacles says a lot about the demand—but the losses we did see are just the first of the challenges we can expect to face if we do not act now to stop the decay of the Amtrak system. While I am very proud of the way the men and women of Amtrak have sustained that system, the time has come for us to do something to reverse this trend so passenger rail can continue to contribute to our national economy.”

“Amtrak has successfully sustained our national system for four decades, thanks to growing ticket revenue, strong freight railroad support, and the federal grants designed to ensure national connectivity,” Boardman said. “Congress stated in Section 228 of PRIIA that the operation of a national system was ‘a vital and necessary part of our national transportation system and economy,’ and that is a sentiment with which I strongly agree.”
Amtrak Table 1Table 1 (opposite) shows Amtrak’s total FY 2015 request, as well as the divisions of operating and capital need. “Taken as a whole, our FY2015 request is approximately 16% higher (excluding FRA oversight funding) than our FY2014 appropriations, Boardman noted. “We have taken a very careful approach so that we can keep operating costs down, and operating revenues up, resulting in a cost recovery that has continued to rise, reaching 89% in FY 2013, and a projected 91% by FY 2015.

“If Amtrak could obtain access to a multi-year federal funding commitment, it could build and follow through on a capital program that would address our fleet and infrastructure needs. Amtrak has never had a true capital commitment, one that allowed us to sign multiyear contracts, knowing that the money would be there to carry out the work. As a result, we have put off major capital programs to renew aging bridges and tunnels, in some cases for decades. The projects we have been able to undertake have been completed in a manner that is less efficient than it would have been if we could say with certainty that our projects were funded in advance. Our ability to buy in bulk for out years, which saves money, is hindered by our inability to commit money for purchases in coming fiscal years.

“The uncertainty associated with an annual appropriation sometimes means we are left with excess inventory that must be stored or held until a use can be found for it. It is difficult to get industry [suppliers] to respond to orders or proposals if we can’t guarantee large purchases, and it is hard to know when our workforce will be needed, a challenge that is made even harder by the limited work windows that are available on the Northeast Corridor. The process of ‘ramping up’ the organization so that we can effectively invest at a level that will make a difference will take a period of years, as we will have to develop capabilities that are currently scaled to our existing program—both management capabilities, such as project and contractor oversight, and workforce capacity—to accommodate significantly higher levels of funding.

“While we can expand and contract these capabilities to accommodate fluctuating levels of investment, there are significant long term cost savings that will come if we can plan our activities in advance and manage our workforce and inventory in a manner that ensures we obtain the most efficient return for our investment. This would be another efficiency benefit that will flow naturally from access to a committed source of capital support. Such a funding stream would also be important for our long distance services, which enjoy strong support from the states and communities they serve. In addition to the aging fleet, which we have begun to replace, there is a need for investments in the freight network to provide improvements that are needed for passenger service.

To conduct its operations in FY 2015, Amtrak said the NEC will require no federal operating support, but it will require approximately $445 million in federal capital investment, in addition to other funding provided by commuter authorities in accordance with Section 212 of PRIIA. This investment will be augmented by approximately $290 million in revenue generated by NEC services.

“While this level of investment is far below the amount needed to stabilize and improve the NEC, as called for in the draft Five-Year Northeast Corridor Capital Plan now under development with the Northeast Corridor Commission, it reflects what we believe is a realistic request for funding giving our continued reliance on the annual appropriations process for capital funding,” said Boardman. “The majority of the investment will be spent on infrastructure renewal, which includes stations, rail and safety mandates, and rolling stock. The remaining $34 million will be invested in Amtrak’s most important ongoing investment project, the Gateway Program, designed to build additional track, tunnel and terminal capacity at Amtrak’s most congested point, New York Penn Station and the tunnels connecting it with New Jersey.”

Amtrak’s state-supported services have become a major source of ridership growth, with ridership almost doubling between 1998 and 2013. “Over the course of the past year, we have worked closely with our state partners to implement the cost-sharing mandates established by Section 209 of PRIIA,” Boardman said. “Section 209 requires the states to assume a larger and consistent share of the costs associated with each service, and their willingness to do so has allowed Amtrak to preserve every single state-supported service. While the 209 process has secured state support for the majority of operating expenses, Amtrak will still require approximately $83 million of federal operating support for these trains in FY 2015. While these services as a whole will continue to require some level of state and federal operating support, it should be noted that by the end of FY 2013, preliminary analysis indicates that nine of these routes had reached or exceeded the 90% cost recovery level for the year. In most of these instances, the availability of multiple frequencies, the promise of reliable service, and the additional choices conferred by intercity rail and transit service connectivity have driven this growth—which strongly suggests that the success of our NEC services could be replicated in other corridors, if sufficient levels of capital funding and freight railroad access could be obtained to develop them.”

While Amtrak’s long distance service costs have been offset in recent years by revenues from NEC services, Amtrak is proposing for FY 2015 that the federal government provide for the totality of their operating need, $618 million, as part of its FY 2015 operating need. “Like the Northeast Corridor, these trains will require significant capital investment, with a total identified FY 2015 need of $295 million,” said Boardman. “About $50 million of this cost will be required for ADA compliance at our stations. The purchase of new rolling stock, including the ongoing replacement of our Heritage cars, will require $130 million. Approximately $115 million will be required for overhauls to our fleet, much of which dates to the early 1980s.”
Amtrak Table 2How all this is to be accomplished “is both a policy matter and a financial one,” Boardman said. “The states and our other partners have important roles to play, but investment on the scale required to achieve program goals will have to come from the federal government. It is equally clear that the existing investment model, with its unpredictable timing and funding levels, is incapable of providing financing in a manner that supports the development of major multiyear projects. If America wants a modern intercity passenger rail system, this problem must be addressed – as much to sustain the existing level of service as to develop the capacity Amtrak will need in the years to come. A new and sustainable financing framework is needed for the benefit of the entire nation, as well as the multiple state and regional economies which we do or could serve. Table 2 (lower illustration) will put our FY 2015 need in the context of our needs for the following years, which will, if financed, bring us up to a level that will allow us to make meaningful improvements in our system reliability. The need for investment is pressing, and the gradual process of decapitalization will, if left unchecked, lead to higher costs and worse service, for Amtrak, commuters, and Northeastern freight carriers.”

Seattle Just Became the First City to Cap the Number of UberX and Lyft Drivers on the Road

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/03/seattle-just-became-first-city-limit-number-ride-share-drivers-road/8664/

By Jenny Xie, March 18, 2014


Seattle Just Became the First City to Cap the Number of UberX and Lyft Drivers on the Road
 A Lyft driver waits in her car as a taxi cab passes her in San Francisco.

Yesterday afternoon, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to limit the capacity of uberX, Lyft, SideCar, and other on-demand transportation services in the city.

The new regulation caps the number of drivers at 150 for each service at any given time. The Council will also require those services to meet state insurance rules already imposed on traditional taxis - both Uber and Lyft are currently on track to do so.

Setting a cap means these services won't be able to compete with the established taxi industry. At 150 drivers, they simply won't be able to keep up with demand. As one uberX driver told The Seattle Times, “In rush hour, 150 drivers each is not going to be enough. It’s not even enough for downtown."
The bill would also force hundreds of drivers off the roads - uberX alone employs nearly 1,000 drivers in the city. 

These services have faced regulatory hurdles in virtually every city they're attempting to expand to. So far, Uber has been barred from setting up shop in Miami, Portland, and New Orleans entirely. And in Chicago, where Uber and Lyft already operate, taxi drivers have filed a lawsuit against the city for not regulating these services as stringently as it has the taxi industry. There was, however, some success in California, which recently rolled out a specialized regulation framework for these new transportation services, now designated as "Transportation Network Companies."

Seattle's measure has been controversial. Last month, tech industry folks in the city started a petition urging the council to drop the proposed restrictions in order to promote competition and innovation.

But the council stood firm. According to a GeekWire live blog of the voting session yesterday, Councilwoman Sally Clark criticized the companies for failing to adequately communicate and collaborate with regulators. Councilman Bruce Harrell was also quoted saying, "the headline should not read City Council capped anything. It should read that it allowed rideshares to come into industry."

The decision is also a defensive move, an effort to buy some time for the existing taxi companies before companies like Uber and Lyft cause too much disruption.

"This is a wake-up call for taxi industry. It has to change in order to thrive. Now you have time to do that," says Harrell.

Mayor Ed Murray, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law, said in a statement that he hopes to phase out of driver limits after the council figures out how to fairly de-regulate the local taxi industry. 

Author's note: A previous version of this article referred to companies like Uber and Lyft as ride-sharing services. While the companies have been promoted as such, they are different from traditional ride-sharing programs, which consist of carpools and vanpools. California, the first state to regulate services like Uber, established the new category of "Transportation Network Companies" to do so.

Even China Is Ragging on France's Air Pollution

China has some gall. Take a look at this cartoon that ran recently in the Global Times, a paper that Shanghaiist dubs "[e]veryone's favorite vitriolic nationalist rag":

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2014/03/now-even-china-ragging-frances-air-pollution/8668/

By John Metcalfe, March 17, 2014






Aw, the Eiffel Tower is sad because it's being smothered by car exhaust. No wonder the government took away half your cars, France – you're turning the sky into a smoggy, choking mess!

It must sting when China, which you can't find on a map sometimes because of all its smog, is calling your country's air nasty. To recap, France is facing unusually high levels of particulate matter due to a temperature inversion trapping smog low to the ground. The authorities have responded by making public transportation free and rationing the number of drivers on the road via a license plate-based system. (A system that, in proud French tradition, thousands are are ignoring.) The air quality has been so lousy in recent days that walking through the city was like traversing the dusky interior of a Texas haboob.

But does China really have zinging rights here? Let's have a gander at what was floating over France last Friday, when air-pollution concentrations were about 10 times denser than the 2011 average:



Can you see the haze? "The pollution, which appears gray, is most visible just south of the bank of low clouds near and over the English Channel," writes NASA, which helps operate the satellite that acquired this image.

Now, here's China in December. A filthy river of smog stretches from Shanghai all the way to Beijing, which you'd think the Global Times staff would've seen it as they're based there. Form your own conclusions:


Bottom image courtesy of NASA