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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Motion asks Metro to implement a number of several tech initiatives


By Steve Hymon, March 20, 2014

In July of last year, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Vice Chair Eric Garcetti and Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont Walker authored a motion asking Metro staff to report back on several technology matters, including ticketing-by-smart phone, wi-fi access at Metro facilities and the possibility of creating an internet-based customer help desk.

Metro staff responded with the following report, which includes the original motion that shows some of the tech efforts underway — including the ability to add to a TAP card by smart phone — and others that are on the radar but need more work and/or funding [pdf here]:

  View this document on Scribd
In response, Garcetti and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Don Knabe have submitted a new motion asking staff to go:


One note: To see a list of some third-party apps that have been developed using Metro scheduling data, please click here and then click on the “third party apps” tab. Metro also has some mobile tools available, detailed at the same link.

As for wi-fi on the Gold Line, that was an effort originally pursued several years ago by the Community Redevelopment Agency. After the CRA was legislated out of existence, the project never moved forward.

Orange County's toll roads going cashless


By Anh Do, March 20, 2014

 Cashless toll roads

 Motorists on the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor pass through a toll plaza where their transponders are scanned as they drive.

Orange County’s vast network of toll roads will go cashless this spring, shutting down all of its toll booths and eliminating the need to fish for exact change.

Motorists who travel the 51 miles of toll lanes can continue to use the FasTrak passes, which are scanned as drivers pass through toll plazas, or shift to a newly created ExpressAccount.

The conversion will affect all of the county’s toll roads -- the 73, 133, 241 and the 261 -- starting in May.

The new ExpressAccount will operate on a vehicle identification system, with cars' license plates being scanned at toll plazas. Account holders can link their account to a credit card, prepay for traveling the highways or receive itemized monthly bills.

Unlike the FasTrak, which can be used statewide -- including the 91 Express Lanes and the Metro Express Lanes in Los Angeles -- the ExpressAccount is limited to the toll roads in Orange County.
The FasTrak has one other advantage. Tolls, on average, will be 20% lower.

Making Transit Better Isn’t Enough. Driving Needs to Be Worse.


By Tanya Snyder, March 21, 2014

So transit ridership is up. Everybody knows that. It’s at its highest point since 1956. Right?

That's more like it. Photo: ##http://www.showingsuite.com/high-gas-prices-still-sell-more-homes##Showing Suite##
That’s more like it.

Well, ridership per capita is still less than half its 1956 point. And by 1956, transit ridership was already at a 40-year low. But with transit growing faster than car travel, at a rate that outpaces population growth, there is still cause for optimism.

But even that cautious optimism took a bit of a beating in the Washington Post’s opinion section this morning, as three prominent urban planning professors declared the transit bump fictitious. “In fact, use of mass transportation has remained remarkably steady, and low, since about 1970,” they go on. “There is nothing exceptional about last year’s numbers; they represent a depressing norm.” They even hint that federal funding for transit is too high.

Way too far down in the column, the professors – David King of Columbia University, Michael Manville of Cornell University, and Michael Smart of Rutgers — shift focus from the problem with transit to the problem with driving.

The nut of their argument is as follows: “Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap.”

Emily Badger made this point in Atlantic Cities two weeks ago (and Jeff Wood and I made it on the Talking Headways podcast last week). It’s not enough to spruce up sustainable modes if we as a nation are still giving enormous amounts of subsidies and space to the private automobile.

If driving continues to be the fastest and most convenient way of getting almost everywhere, people will continue to drive. It’s like telling business owners they’re welcome to hire union workers at a living wage, but they’re also totally free to use child labor if they’d rather. Nine times out of 10, people will pick the cheaper option.

Not that driving is cheaper than biking or taking transit, of course. Owning a car is quite expensive, in fact — about $9,150 a year, according to AAA. But it’s not nearly expensive enough.
Here’s what King, Manville and Smart say:
Drivers impose costs on society — in delay, in pollution, in carbon, in wear and tear on our roads — that they don’t pay for. As a result, many of us drive more than we otherwise would. Ending this underpriced driving — through higher fuel taxes, parking and congestion charges and insurance premiums based on miles driven — is a central challenge for local, state and federal transportation officials.
If only transportation officials saw that as their central challenge! Instead, many fail to recognize the ways in which Americans are signaling that they are ready to use other modes and continue planning for an auto-centric future.
The op-ed continues:
Charging the right price for driving would give drivers a better-performing system, both by reducing congestion and raising revenue to help repair roads. It would help communities and the planet by reducing pollution. And, not least, it would help public transportation by leveling the playing field between transit and private vehicles. Increased subsidies for public transportation have neither reduced driving nor increased transit use. But ending subsidies to driving probably would do both.

Ending these subsidies will be hard work, politically. Yet we will have no incentive to do this work if Americans continue to believe that transit is making a comeback on its own. It isn’t. Transit, like the rest of our transportation system, is in trouble. We need to act quickly to save it.
The authors are absolutely right. The U.S. has spent the last 60 years making sure motorists could endanger everything from public health and safety to public transportation budgets and not feel a thing. Every time the idea comes up that drivers should feel be responsible for a little more of the damage they cause society, accusations of “social engineering” and “Agenda 21” start flying.
So instead, the U.S. continues to incentivize the worst behavior and inconvenience the best. No wonder transit ridership still isn’t what it should be.

Bridge, tunnel traffic has ups and downs after tolls


By Dave Forster, March 21, 2014

Traffic at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels gradually returned - if only slightly - in the first four weeks of tolling, according to the latest look at vehicle counts.

Average weekday volumes increased by about 5,000 vehicles at the Downtown and by about 1,000 vehicles at the Midtown by the end of February, compared with the first week after tolls started on Feb. 1, an analysis by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization found.

Even so, the combined daily vehicle counts at the two crossings remained about 20,000 lower than the average of 126,000 trips that were recorded during a three-day stretch before tolling.

Meanwhile, a corresponding spike in demand at two untolled crossings held mostly steady. Volumes at the High-Rise Bridge were still up 16 percent at the end of February - the same increase that the bridge saw immediately after tolling. Traffic at the Gilmerton Bridge was up 32 percent at the end of the month, compared with a 34 percent jump initially.

The analysis also found a slight shift in traffic from the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, suggesting that some drivers are taking the latter to avoid the tolled crossings at the Elizabeth River. Of all the trips taken on the two bridge-tunnels across the harbor, 59 percent used the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel at the end of February, versus 57 percent before the Midtown and Downtown were tolled.

The Transportation Planning Organization will give a more detailed report this fall on how the tolls have affected traffic speeds and congestion levels on the region's road network.

A researcher hired by the organization to survey attitudes on the tolls also discussed his findings at a meeting Thursday. The survey, led by Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport University's Wason Center for Public Policy, was done the week before tolling started.

A similar survey will be done in late April so the results can be compared to see whether sentiment has changed.

The survey was conducted by landline and cellphone and involved 601 respondents from Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk. It had a maximum margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.9 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.

County Reconsiders Plan to Send 200 Truckloads of Dirt, Daily, Through Pasadena


By Rachel Young, March 21, 2014

Confronted with over 200 lengthy submitted comments and an expert action committee formed by the City Council, the project manager of the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project said at a meeting this week that the County is considering ways to make the project “better.”

As it stands, the proposed removal will involve one truck per minute, six days a week for five years.
 The Los Angeles County Flood District says it must remove 4 million cubit yards of sediment, enough to fill up the Rose Bowl four times, from the Devil’s Gate Reservoir to protect the county from a potential flood.

While no one argues the need for sediment removal, the method of the proposed project, outlined in the draft environmental impact report, has not sat well with Pasadena residents or council members.

“Looking at something like 5 years of 200 trucks per day and then you look at the other proposal to the south to build a tunnel through Pasadena, the picture you get is a dystopia here in this beautiful city that we have,” Councilmember Steve Madison said.

The public comment period for the draft environmental impact report closed in January and Los Angeles County is now faced with sorting through the comments and answering every comment in the final report.

“We’ve taken those comments and were looking at ways to make a better project, we’re working on our response to comments. But before we finalize that document we have a number of steps, one of which is to address some misinformation and lack of information in terms of this design criteria and sediment history,” Principal Civil Engineer for Los Angeles County Flood District Keith Lilley said.

Lilley presented an update to both the Pasadena City Council and Supervisor Michael Antonovich at a joint meeting on Wednesday.

“We don’t think our standards are overly conservative, but we do want the right information,” Lilley said.

Council members had formerly questioned Lilley about the need for the project and likelihood of a storm big enough to break the dam threshold and cause a flood. Lilley reported back that two storm events within the last century have been large enough to cause concern—the storms of 1969 and 1938.

“What various folks here are asking, including Tim Brick, is to take a step back to look at the overall program to determine whether scraping it out and trucking it out is really the long term management and solution for the county in terms of the impact on your budget and the future environmental impacts around the region,” Councilmember Terry Tornek said.

The City of Pasadena currently has a working group of six experts on sediment removal brainstorming an alternative plan to the County’s proposed project. The group will look at providing the appropriate level of flood control, but also seek to lessen the impacts on the park as well as adjacent neighborhoods.

By April the working group expects to have a recommendation for the City Manager that will focus on six areas of suggestion for the County—hydrology of the sediment behind the dam and downstream, wildlife and habitat in Hahamongna, lowering neighborhood and recreational impacts, and the long-term maintenance plan.

“We spent a Saturday with Dr. Norman Brooks, a Caltech Professor with expertise in sediment transport, that was a very informative day for us,” Director of Public Works Siobhan Foster said who is taking part in the group.

Arroyo Seco Foundation President Tim Brick brought in his own expert from Germany. Last week Dietrich Bartelt of the German hydrology firm, DB Sediments visited Pasadena. Bartelt has been tracking the Devil’s Gate sediment program from Europe and submitted comments to the County’s draft environmental impact report.

“In Europe they have standards on things like this and they have standards for upgrading rivers, and so the sediment management is now becoming part of the whole best management practice for looking at rivers in Europe,” Brick said. “He has a whole approach toward sediment management in rivers and reservoirs that uses a more environmentally friendly approach, and it’s based on kind of a slow, steady release of sediment through natural stream processes.”

Viewing sediment as a key part of river dynamics and health, Bartelt’s uses equipment like dredging equipment in order to try to move the sediment naturally through the stream system.

“The sediment in Devil’s Gate Dam was build up for almost a hundred years, so we would prefer that they develop an ongoing and slow program that removes the sediment from the base and over a longer period of time, say 10 to 15 years that would dramatically reduce the impacts on the neighborhoods, less trucks, less traffic, less pollution from the trucks and noise,” Brick said.

Brick said that when Bartelt spoke with Keith Lilley in a meeting, he voiced interest in these natural methods for other dams and facilities, but probably not for Devil’s Gate Dam.

“We hope that through Pasadena’s strong stand and the entire community’s voice and all of that, that the county will actually come up with a more ongoing, a continuing program. We want really a long term program here that will make sure that we don’t have this kind of sediment build up in the future,” Brick said.

Brick said it is so difficult to grab the attention of the county who oversees 14 dams and 162 debris structures, but he said this working group stands a chance at having a voice.

“Were tremendously grateful for the open and cooperative communication that exists between us and the county on this matter,” Bill Bogaard said.

Once the County has responded to all the questions and comments on the draft environmental impact report, a final document will be drafted and communication will continue to inform the City of Pasadena and residents.

“Michael were looking forward to receive a report in April,” Supervisor Antonovich said to the City Manager at the conclusion of the meeting.

For Westside residents, a train in vain?

Intense development around future Expo line stops sparks worries that a public transportation investment will actually make traffic worse


By Michelle Begmann, March 19, 2014

 The extension of the Expo Line into Santa Monica brings with it several high-density development projects along the way
 The extension of the Expo Line into Santa Monica brings with it several high-density development projects along the way

The incoming light rail has some Westsiders questioning its very purpose. From Culver City to Santa Monica, three of seven new stops along the expansion of the Expo Line will bring with them huge developments expected to create thousands of extra car trips per day.

With all the excitement around the convenience of bringing light rail to the Westside, the developments sprouting up around those tracks are beg one major question for residents: Will the train alleviate Westside traffic woes or make them worse?

“We want to keep the integrity of the single-family homes,” said Terry Tippit, a longtime West Los Angeles resident and member of the Westwood Homeowners Association.

Tippit fought the Expo Line stop in her neighborhood for years, but she has now come to terms with the fact that about a year and a half from now the train will be picking up and dropping off passengers just blocks away from her home every 15 minutes.

At the Expo line’s Sepulveda and Pico stop, developer Casden is set to build 599 apartments with up to 15,000 square feet of neighborhood retail shops. The development is expected to bring up to 3,000 new car trips to the neighborhood per day, and Tippit worries how her neighborhood is going to handle that.

“Where are all those cars going to go?” asked Tippit.

Others say concentrating growth around public transportation, encouraging commuters to ditch their cars for public transportation, is the way to solve traffic congestion in a city that keeps growing.

“The purpose of smart growth is to end our being choked in gridlock, not to worsen it,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents many Westside neighborhoods.

A few future Expo Line stops to the west is Bergamot Station — at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street, the third-to-last stop before the line’s terminus at Colorado Avenue and 4th Street.

Both hangout and housing for artists, Bergamot Station’s modern buildings that look similar to airport hangers are home to several distinct art galleries.

The planned Bergamot Transit Village, which would be one of the largest developments in Santa Monica history, would transform seven acres of Bergamot Station into 427 apartments, 375,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops.

Conway Bongo, Bergamot Station artist and resident, says it’s not the train that is the problem; it’s the incoming transit village that will change the art hub and displace some galleries.

“It’s kind of atrocious, something like Bergamot Station that’s been here for so long, getting rid of it,” the artist said. “I find it horrifying.”

Bongo isn’t the only Santa Monica resident opposed to the transit village concept. So are about 13,400 others.

With the development bringing in an estimated additional 7,000 car trips per day, many Santa Monica residents worry the project will make their city unlivable and have been working to stop it.

After the Santa Monica City Council approved the transit village by a 4-3 vote on Feb. 4, a coalition of neighborhood groups — Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, Santa Monica for a Livable City and Mid-City Neighbors, among others — launched a referendum campaign to overturn the project’s approval.

The group needed 6,000 signatures to force council members to repeal project approval or put the matter before voters on an upcoming ballot.

On March 11, they more than doubled that goal.

“We have been told that our community is split over the issues of growth and densification in Santa Monica. It is clear that the only split that exists is the split between the four pro-growth City Council members and the real residents of Santa Monica,” Armen Melkonians, founder of referendum organizing website residocracy.org, posted in a recent statement.

Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown, one of the three votes against the project, said the project over-reaches by including too much office space, which is more likely than housing to generate additional traffic trips, and does not provide enough direct benefits to residents.

“We are confronted with a massive and ungainly project the community simply will not accept,” McKeown said. “It doesn’t offer us affordable housing and open space for parkland.”

Other officials say Bergamot Transit Village and other mixed-use developments will help reduce traffic by providing housing for those who work here and would otherwise commute by car.

Santa Monica Director of Planning and Development David Martin said that regardless of what Santa Monica does at Bergamot Station, traffic will likely get worse due to the city’s popularity.

“What we have to do is always be looking at ways to mitigate traffic,” said Martin.

History has shown that introducing new transportation causes natural changes to cities, making them more diversified and accessible to the public. It also attracts developers, as businesses and residential units close to light rail stops are highly valued, said Taylor Mammen, a Westwood real estate development consultant.

“In a way, [Expo Line stations] become the best locations to do real estate development in the city … and although it might be disruptive from a macro level, that’s just kind of how cities work”, Mammen said.

Westwood residents will be able to access downtown or the beach in 20 minutes or less — a speed and convenience difficult to fathom at peak-traffic hours in Los Angeles.

“I think it’s great,” said John Ribarich, a Westwood resident. “I’m all for it. I think it will relieve traffic. If people are going to live here, they will live here because of the train.”

Trains and hotels also go hand-in-hand, and there has been no exception with the Expo Line extension: A Marriott Hotel and Hampton Inn are being built at the end-of-the-line Colorado Avenue and 4th Street Station in Santa Monica.

“The two that are coming in are very moderately priced hotels, so we have heard from some residents that they are happy about them because they will provide a service to even the residents,” Santa Monica Planning and Community Development Assistant Director Ellen Gelbard said.

The hotels will cater to visitors riding the train, which is part of the reason why developer OTO will contribute $600,000 to the Colorado Esplanade, a large platform that will channel visitors to the Santa Monica Pier.

“I think in order to maximize the investment LA is making, it is critical that there be plenty of people who can use it,” said Mammen.

Aside from Bergamot Transit Village, construction on most approved projects near future light rail stops has either already started or will begin in the next six months. Sitting in the pipeline are about 10 new mixed-use projects agreements heading to the Santa Monica Planning Commission.

Ultimately, whether the Expo line brings more or less congestion to the Westside depends on how many commuters actually use the train.

Either way, the development sprouting up around future train stops will leave a permanent mark.
“No other single change will affect Santa Monica more, for better or for worse, than the light rail,” McKeown said.

Electric cars can go only half as far in freezing weather, AAA finds


By Jerry Hirsch, March 20, 2014

For a video:  http://landing.newsinc.com/shared/video.html?freewheel=91002&sitesection=selatimes&VID=25734386

 Testing by AAA has found that how far an electric vehicle can travel on one charge varies widely depending on the weather. Frigid temperatures can reduce that distance by 57%.

The research is important to the Automobile Club of Southern California because it maintains mobile recharging trucks for people who misjudge how far they can go in their electric car.

“EV drivers need to carefully monitor range in hot and cold weather,” said Steve Mazor, the engineer who manages the Southern California club’s Automotive Research Center.

 The center conducted tests on a 2013 Nissan Leaf,  a 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV and the electric version of a 2014 Ford Focus. 
The cars were tested for city driving to mimic stop-and-go traffic and to better compare with Environmental Protection Agency ratings listed on the window sticker, AAA said.

The average EV battery range in AAA’s test was 105 miles at 75 degrees but dropped 57% to just 43 miles at 20 degrees. Heat also sliced the cars' ranges but by not as much: The cars averaged 69 miles per full charge at 95 degrees, 33% less than in 75-degree weather.

The research center tested the cars following the same EPA drive cycles that provide the data for the mileage window stickers on new cars. The vehicles were charged up and then driven on a machine with rollers called a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room until the battery was exhausted.

Port truck drivers vying to join union get state, federal boost


By James Rainey, March 21, 2014

 Truck drivers
 Truck drivers say they need union representation to improve pay and working conditions for the thousands who transport cargo out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

 A string of actions by state officials and the National Labor Relations Board has strengthened the hand of truck drivers who say they need union representation to improve pay and working conditions for the thousands who transport cargo out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In a settlement this week, one major trucking company agreed to post notices acknowledging the workers’ right to organize — not previously a given because drivers were treated as contract workers, who are not subject to unionization. The agreement comes after repeated victories at the state Labor Commissioner’s office, where 30 drivers have won decisions against 11 port trucking firms, awarding them $3.6 million in wages and penalties.

“I am ecstatic. They dug into this situation and found there is a serious problem here,” said Eric Tate, chief of Teamsters Local 848, which covers the harbor area. “We are trying to protect jobs and workers who are being mistreated.”

A spokesman for Pacific 9 Transportation, the company that agreed to settle a dispute with the Teamsters, downplayed the action. Alex Cherin noted that the Carson-based company had not admitted wrongdoing or paid any fines. Cherin, also executive director of Harbor Trucking Assn., predicted that many of the state wage rulings could be overturned on appeal and said that all of the recent actions were part of a Teamsters’ plan to force the union on drivers who are mostly content with their jobs.

The long-running dispute centers on allegations by “short-haul” drivers who deliver goods to warehouses and railway depots around Southern California. The drivers say that a profession that was once a bulwark of the middle class has been transformed into a low-wage backwater, as companies insist on employing independent owner-operators, rather than full-fledged employees.

Some drivers contend that they must operate with company trucks, under leases that have grown exorbitant as the companies were forced to upgrade as part of Los Angeles’ 2008 Clean Truck Program, heralded for cleaning the air around the two ports. Together, L.A. and Long Beach ports handle more cargo than any other harbor complex in the world.

When lease payments are added to the cost of maintenance, fuel, parking, tires, insurance and vehicle fees, drivers say their gross pay can be trimmed to as little as $20,000 a year, despite long hours.

“We are making peanuts over there. Some people working at McDonald’s, they make more money than us,” said Daniel Linares, 58, a Pacific 9 driver who said he hopes the union will be brought in, “so we can get decent pay and benefits, in order to lead a decent life.”

Cherin sharply disputed the notion that drivers had been mistreated, saying the majority prefer operating independently. Some clear more than $100,000 a year despite significant overhead costs, he said. “Like any industry,” Cherin said, “you have contractors that are very successful and those who are not.”

The Teamsters filed a complaint in November with the NLRB, alleging that Pacific 9 had retaliated against drivers who supported the union — giving them less work and denying maintenance and repairs for their trucks. Workers were threatened with termination for supporting organizing efforts, the union contended.

Pacific 9, which has 156 employees, denied making threats. Cherin repeated his accusation that the union had been driven to find a way into the companies after the courts overturned a Clean Truck Program provision that required companies to use employees, rather than contractors, as drivers.

Officials in the labor board’s Los Angeles office made two findings helpful to the union: that the workers at Pacific 9 were not truly independent contractors but employees and therefore subject to unionization, and that there was evidence the National Labor Relations Act had been violated.

The company conceded neither of those points. But it agreed this week to post a notice at the Carson yard notifying employees of their right to organize, to join a union and to not be threatened, or even questioned, about union activities.

One union official said other trucking companies had imposed even more onerous conditions on workers. A total of 515 drivers serving the two ports have filed complaints with the state Labor Commissioner’s office about wage disputes, many saying exorbitant deductions had been taken from their checks.

The state agency has sided with drivers in all 30 of the cases decided so far, determining that the workers had been misclassified as independent contractors when their job requirements made them tantamount to employees.

Cherin said the industry had been “painted with a broad brush,” and predicted many of the $3.6 million in wage sanctions could be overturned. Union chief Tate had a different view, concluding: “We are on a big roll here.”