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, April 4, 2014

California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update


By Melanie Curry, April 4, 2014

For social media coverage of California’s statewide transportation issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like the Streetsblog California Facebook page.

Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.
  • News on the implementation of S.B. 743, which removes Automobile Level of Service (LOS) from consideration as an environmental impact in areas with robust transit. The state’s Office of Planning and Research released the public comments it has received on its update of CEQA guidelines and its draft guidelines for S.B. 743, passed last year. S.B. 743 requires the OPR to come up with a new urban planning metric to replace LOS that measures the effect of development and transportation projects on all traffic, not just car drivers. Proponents are enthusiastic about eliminating an outdated, car-centric measure that has led to wider, faster streets. Critics worry that cities and counties no longer have the means to require developers to improve streets. The next steps: drafting the actual guidelines, releasing them for public comment in late spring, and producing a final draft version of the guidelines by July 1.

  • Caltrans published a new mission statement: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” This is a vast improvement over the old one, “Caltrans improves mobility across California,” and it contains all the right buzzwords. The mission statement was the first item on the Early Action Plan outlined in the State Smart Transportation Initiative report urging deep reforms in Caltrans. Check — now to work.

  • More extensive senate hearings saw debates about the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan and high-speed rail, this time in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation. CA High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales defended the use of cap-and-trade funds for high speed rail, and Senator Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) attacked cap-and-trade as a slush fund and high-speed rail as an expensive project that will produce a “puny” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Plenty of comments from the Legislative Analyst’s Office and various interest groups.

Beverly Hills superintendent pans judge's decision on subway lawsuit


By Laura J. Nelson, April 4, 2014

 Beverly Hills subway

 Signs opposing a subway tunnel construction planned under Beverly Hills High School are seen here posted at the district offices in 2012. The district superintendent disagrees with a judge's recent decision clearing the way for the project.

A judge who sided with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week in a drawn-out battle over the seismic and environmental effects of the planned Westside subway "did not consider the facts," the superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District told The Times on Thursday. 

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio ruled that Metro followed environmental law when assessing the possible risks of a nine-mile extension of the Purple Line subway through the heart of the Wilshire corridor.

But Beverly Hills Unified Supt. Gary Woods said the judge had not weighed the findings of the city's experts presented during the environmental review process.

"The court’s decision does not change the fact that the MTA continues to put people at risk by failing to do a thorough seismic analysis along its routes," Woods said in an email.

The school district and the city of Beverly Hills sued Metro two years ago, claiming in part that the risks of tunneling under the school were not adequately considered. Neither Woods nor the Beverly Hills city attorney, Larry Wiener, would say whether they planned to file an appeal.

The route Metro has chosen for the subway includes a station near Constellation Boulevard in Century City, two blocks west of Beverly Hills High School. The project will require tunneling under parts of the campus.

Metro considered an alternative station at Santa Monica Boulevard but discarded it after agency studies found a complex earthquake fault zone in that area.

Woods said the school district and nearby property owners were forced to spend "millions of dollars" and years investigating Metro's environmental and seismic analysis.

"Not a single active fault has been found by any of the numerous investigations," Woods said. "MTA refuses to consider the data – the facts – on the existence, or non-existence of faults."

However, Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said independent tunnel experts and a safety advisory panel found "substantial evidence of active faulting" along Santa Monica Boulevard, and none near the station location along Constellation.

As currently planned, the nine-mile line, slated to open in 2035, will include seven new stations between Koreatown and Westwood.

Had Metro lost the lawsuit, the Purple Line could have faced years of delay and millions of dollars in extra costs while new environmental impact studies were completed, Sotero said.

Last year, Beverly Hills sued the Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation over grants and loans allocated to the subway, saying the project violated environmental, transit and administrative laws.

Metro Approves ‘Subway To The Sea’ Tunnel Under Beverly Hills High School


LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Despite objections from Beverly Hills city and school officials, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved plans Thursday to dig a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School as part of the Purple Line subway’s extension to Century City and Westwood.

The board had previously approved a roughly 3.9-mile extension of the so-called “Subway to the Sea,” from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire.

KNX 1070′s Margret Carrero reports opponents of the project like BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Gary Woods urged the board to postpone any final decision.

“I respectfully request that you take your time to make the right decision,” said Woods.

The board ultimately delayed approving the next two phases so it could hear more arguments from Beverly Hills officials about the route.

Thursday’s vote approved the next two phases of the extension, first to Century City then to the Veterans’ Administration hospital at Wilshire Boulevard and the San Diego (405) Freeway.

The board approved the extension on a 7-2 vote, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Duarte Mayor John Fasana dissenting and calling for more study.

Beverly Hills officials said that Metro’s intended tunnel would be dangerous for students and interfere with plans to renovate the BHHS campus.

At a hearing last week, geologists and engineers hired by the Beverly Hills Unified School District presented geo-technical analyses that questioned the MTA’s studies of earthquake faults in the area. The district’s team argued there are no earthquake faults beneath Beverly Hills High and that a fault below Santa Monica Boulevard is not active.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the Metro board, insisted there are subway tunnels built under courthouses, homes, schools and businesses elsewhere that have caused no problems.
He added that the Westside is a major destination point for people from throughout the Southland.
“People will be coming from all over the region because the Westside — for better or for worse — has become a major employment center,” the supervisor said.

Yaroslavsky warned that if the subway extension did not feature a Century City stop, it would be a mistake of historic proportions. Such an error, he said, would be “added to the list of mistakes” such as not linking a rail line to Los Angeles International Airport and failing to build a Red Line stop at the Hollywood Bowl.

In the first phase of the extension, the train will stop at La Brea and Fairfax avenues and La Cienega Boulevard. Future segments would take the train south toward Century City, then west, with stops on Wilshire near UCLA and the Veterans Administration hospital just west of the San Diego (405) Freeway.

When complete, riders will be able to travel from downtown to Westwood in 25 minutes, according to Metro officials, who predict an average 49,300 weekday boardings.

Draft environmental documents put the cost at $4.36 billion in 2009 dollars. The final documents calculate the projected cost using the estimated value of the dollar in 2022, when the first phase is scheduled to open.

The subway route does not go all the way to the coast — although it is often dubbed the “Subway to the Sea.”

Metro hopes to break ground on the extension by the fall of 2013.

Metro Case Judge Writes Bad Opinion -Facts Wrong, Backwards

Email message from the Beverly Hills Courier, April 4, 2014

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Torribio finally released his Metro opinion dated March 28, 2014, ruling against the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

Let's look at the opinion itself.

What were the lawsuits about?  Two things for the most part:  real facts vs. Metro expert opinion based on no serious research, and a "hearing" required by the Public Utilities Code which was an actual farce.

Metro, if you recall, punched a handful of holes, hid the coring results from Beverly Hills and BHUSD, and substituted "opinions" of their hired experts for real facts.  In response, Beverly Hills Unified actually did the research - and found out conclusively that the Metro experts were wrong.  Metro's "experts" included a TV personality "scientist" not even licensed in California.  All of Beverly Hills' scientists hold the necessary licenses in California.

Second, the City and BHUSD protested the kangaroo court "hearing" held by Metro under the Public Utilities Code.  ANY public hearing must meet at least the minimum requirement of due process, which is "fundamental fairness."  By no means was this hearing "fair" in any sense of the word.  Evidence was hidden from Beverly Hills.  No cross-examination was permitted.  Metro's own lawyer acted as judge and Metro's directors the jury - and even many of them just walked out of the "hearing." 

What did Judge Torribio do with this?  He took 15-pages to say that expert opinion based on the slimmest of facts trumps actual facts even when the "actual facts" conclusively prove the "opinion" wrong.  He wrote that evidence hidden by Metro (to prevent it being challenged) is enough, and that the PUC hearing didn't have to be a hearing in any real legal sense.  It may be fair to say that this entire opinion is a cover-up by a judge who apparently simply hates California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits. (He just nixed another big CEQA suit dealing with the Newhall Ranch.)  Well, in law and our court system, this kind of stuff happens.

As for facts that really are not in dispute, his opinion gets them wrong - backwards at times.  He writes that the "West Beverly Hills Lineament" is where the Santa Monica Boulevard station is supposed be built. No, wrong.  The West Beverly Hills Lineament is the hillside behind Beverly Hills High School sloping up to Century City.  Metro threw that in there to try to threaten Beverly Hills that our high school is on an active earthquake fault.  If it is, it would have to be abandoned and could not be rebuilt. BHUSD trenched-no active fault. 

Oil wells?  Judge Torribio writes that Metro identified the abandoned wells in the path of the digging.  Metro itself, however, writes they cannot.

Judge Torribio mixes up the two routes even worse - he writes that the Santa Monica station route requires the trains to slow down.  Backwards!  It's the Metro route that makes the trains slow down because they have to snake through a crazy "S" turn to go under Beverly High.

Judge Torribio writes that "Metro undertook significant analysis of the subsurface structure of the [Constellation] Station."  No, Metro did not.  Metro drilled virtually no core samples there.  It never looked at anything.  It also relied on its paid-for experts that the Santa Monica Station was bad, even though it drilled nothing there.

A good example of how off the opinion is shows through where the Judge writes that the distance from Santa Monica Boulevard to Constellation, one block away, is a "considerable distance."   It's about 700 feet. 

For anyone who has practiced law for over three decades and understands the scam of using "expert" testimony as a substitute for real facts, this opinion is a serious miscarriage of justice.  Assuming the experts are ethical, the way you get a rigged opinion even from an "ethical" expert is to make sure the expert does not look at enough facts.  As long as the "facts" are meager, the expert has broad discretion to opine as instructed (or hoped for).  The more evidence you gather, the harder it is for an "honest" expert to come up with the conclusion he or she is being paid to deliver.

In this case, the "evidence" on which Metro's experts concluded that active earthquake faults exist where Metro wanted them was not only meager but hidden from Beverly Hills, even though Beverly Hills went to court to get that evidence.  In response, Beverly Hills Unified actually dug huge trenches to find the truth.  Not an "opinion" but actual evidence.  It's like a fingerprint expert testifying that a little partial fingerprint "in my opinion belongs to the accused."  What if the actual "partial print" is hidden from the defense?  In criminal court, the whole thing would be excluded by the judge.  Here, Metro didn't even get a "partial print."  It obtained virtually no evidence, blocked Beverly Hill's and relied on "expert testimony" to make its case.

As for the "hearing" required by the Public Utilities Code, the Judge simply said that nothing is really required, so the fact that nothing was actually "heard" is of no consequence.  In essence, he stripped the Public Utilities Code hearing requirement of all its meaning.  That blocked Beverly Hills from cross-examining the experts which would have included showing them the real facts and asking them whether the real research changed their opinions.  That's how you would deal with it in a real court proceeding.

The Courier believes the City and the Beverly Hills Unified School District will appeal this really poorly crafted opinion.  Just correcting the factual errors alone justifies reversal.  We strongly support an appeal.

The combined cases are Beverly Hills Unified School District v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, case no. BS137606 and City of Beverly Hills v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, case #BS137607.

Senate committee revives transit tax break


By Keith Laing, April 3, 2014

The Senate Finance Committee voted to revive a tax break for commuters who take public transportation to work in a package of tax break extensions that was approved on Thursday.

The bill restores the amount of their monthly incomes that transit riders are allowed to set aside before taxes for their commutes to work to $240 until 2015.

The commuter benefit had been reduced to $125 on Jan. 1 over the objection of public transit advocates, who argued that a similar tax break for drivers who park in garages was left unchanged. 

The measure that included the transit tax, which is known as the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act, which was approved on a voice vote Thursday.

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Ed Wytkind praised lawmakers for reviving the tax break for transit riders.

"Congress effectively implemented a tax increase on working people on January 1 when it failed to avert the roll-back of transit tax benefits,” Wytkind said. “Transportation is an expensive part of a household budget and in many cases is the second largest expense. Further, when transit benefits snapped back to a lower rate, Americans lost the parity they enjoyed between parking and transit benefits.

Wytkind added that "the transit tax benefit helps working people — those who use our transit systems, and those who work for them.

“This benefit is also an example of what happens when government works: People save commuting costs and have access to safe rides to and from work, and employers have the confidence that their employees will get to work safely and on time,” he said. "We have long called for the full reinstatement of the transit tax benefit and wholeheartedly endorse today's action."

Why Mass Transit Fares Are Rising Across the U.S.


By Eric Jaffe, April 4, 2014

 Why Mass Transit Fares Are Rising Across the U.S.

Hardly a month goes by without a city transit agency announcing a fare increase. That's the unequivocal conclusion from a quick Google search of large U.S. cities. Boston's MBTA proposed an increase just last week. The D.C. Metro presented a plan for one the month before that, at the same time San Francisco's Muni riders prepared for one. The Los Angeles MTA chimed in with a recommended hike the month before that. And on and on.

The reason local agencies seem to need so many fare increases is that they do a poor job keeping the price of taking a ride near the cost of providing it. Just how poor a job comes through in a new data-filled report from the U.S. Department of Transportation on the state of American transport.

Let's first look at the average fares per mile from 2000 to 2010 for the ten largest U.S. transit agencies (see chapter six of the report, or the asterisk below, for a list). We see that despite the frequent news reports of fare hikes, the cost of a ride hasn't changed much, when dollars are kept constant. In 2000 the average fare (per mile) was $3.61; in 2010, it was $3.99. That's a 10 percent increase over a decade, or 1 percent a year.

Compare that to the average cost of operating the service per mile over the same period (again, with dollars constant). In 2000, that cost was $9.05; in 2010, it had climbed to $10.82. That's an increase of 19 percent — or about 2 points a year — nearly doubling the growth rate of fares.

And so we see an ever-widening gap between what the biggest transit agencies spend running their service and what they recover from riders. (Here we're talking about day-to-day or "operational" expenses; capital expenses, used for infrastructure and equipment, are considered separate.) In 2000, the top agencies recovered nearly 40 percent of their costs through fares. That figure has since dipped below 37 percent.

Here's the picture altogether:

Taking the wider view of all U.S. transit systems, we see that this recovery ratio has trended downward in the past decade even as funding for transit operations has trended up. The share of system-generated funds — that's primarily fares, though it can also include things like platform and in-car advertisements — has increased almost 4 percent since 2000. The share of federal and state funding, meanwhile, has increased 8 and roughly 14 percent, respectively. From the DOT report:

Now it's important to point out that not all modes of transit recover (or, more appropriately, fail to recover) their fares at similar rates. In fact the differences can be quite dramatic. In 2010, heavy rail (e.g. subway systems) recovered about 62 percent of their costs at the farebox. Commuter rail, meanwhile, recovered about half. But buses and light rail fares only covered about a quarter of their operational costs — 26.7 and 27.5 percent, respectively.

So why is the gap widening so much? There's no single or simple answer, of course, but the growth in operating costs since 2000 has been a major factor. It's not so much the salaries of agency employees — those increased a modest 4 percent (once again limited to the top 10 agencies). It's the fringe benefits (like health care) and labor that have jumped: 45 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Again, there are many reasons why fares don't keep pace with costs. As a general rule, U.S. agencies keep fares low on purpose to provide affordable transit as a public service, relying on subsidies for funding help. In other words, agencies don't expect to eliminate the gap. But until they do a better job minimizing it — coming somewhere closer to ajar than to gaping — you can expect another fare hike coming your way soon.

* New York's MTA, Chicago's CTA, LA's MTA, D.C.'s WMATA, Boston's MBTA, Philadelphia's SEPTA, New Jersey Transit, San Francisco's Muni, Atlanta's MARTA, and Baltimore's MTA.
All charts via Chartbuilder with US DOT data unless indicated.