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, May 21, 2014

Opinion: Sen. Feinstein is wrong: L.A.'s love affair with cars is over


By Kerry Cavanaugh, May 21, 2014

It’s time to retire the old adage that Los Angeles has a love affair with cars. That vision of L.A. is so tired. Really, how could anyone maintain a fondness for driving after experiencing rush hour on the 101, 405 or 10 freeways? Or getting stuck in a traffic jam on a weekend? Or paying $4.30 a gallon for gas or $10 for parking?

So, it’s a bit frustrating to hear California’s senior senator question whether Angelenos will actually use public transit.

 In the midst of celebrating the $1.25-billion federal grant to extend the Purple Line subway to Beverly Hills (which is great news,) Sen. Dianne Feinstein was asked if she thought Southern Californians would embrace the region’s expanding network the way Northern Californians have embraced the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

 Feinstein, apparently, was skeptical. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” the senator said, according to KPCC’s Kitty Felde. The senator went on to describe our love affair with the automobile as a “kind of glue connected to a car and the bottoms of Angelenos.”

 Perhaps Feinstein needs to pay a visit to L.A.’s subway and light-rail stations, or hop a bus. She’ll see a lot of people who have unglued themselves from their cars. Metro has about 1.5 million boardings on buses and trains on a weekday. Ridership has exceeded projections on new routes, such as the Orange Line busway across the San Fernando Valley and the Expo light-rail line from downtown to Culver City.

It’s not hard to imagine why. Traffic stinks, and if you create a convenient, comfortable alternative to driving, many people will take it. So much for L.A.’s love affair with cars.

Editorial Give L.A.'s riders a Metro fare hike that's fair


May 20, 2014

 The MTA has proposed three fare increases over six years to cover rising costs on a rapidly expanding system.

If you take a bus or a subway in Los Angeles, the basic fare is $1.50. But that covers only a fraction of the cost of the trip. In L.A., as in other cities, public transit is heavily subsidized. Fares paid by riders on the 10 largest transit systems in the country cover, on average, only 37% of the cost of their trips. On L.A.'s buses, subways and light rail, fares cover only about 26%; local sales taxes and state fuel taxes pay for most of the rest.

This week, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board of directors will consider whether to make riders pay a greater share of bus and rail operating expenses, bringing their portion up to 33% of the total cost. To that end, Metro staff has proposed three fare increases over six years to cover rising costs on a rapidly expanding system.

 The initial hike, which would take effect in September, is only 25 cents, bringing the basic fare to $1.75 from $1.50. That seems reasonable: It's the first increase in four years and is a modest adjustment that reflects rising costs due to inflation, labor expenses and the needs of an expanding transit network. Metro has also, for the first time, proposed providing free transfers, allowing people to transfer between bus and rail lines within two hours without having to pay for another ride. That's a good idea that will save money for riders. Daily, weekly and monthly passes, including those for the disabled, elderly and students, would also increase in price by 20% to 40%.

So far, so good. But Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky and Mayor Eric Garcetti have made a sensible argument for postponing the vote on the second two fare increases, which were proposed for 2017 and 2020. Instead, they say, a task force of transit experts should be appointed to recommend alternative ways to generate operating revenue. This would offer an opportunity to develop a new revenue model for public transit.

The task force should determine what share of operating costs ought to be covered by riders. Those operating costs are only going to increase as Metro opens new rail lines to Santa Monica and Azusa, and eventually builds the Crenshaw Line, the Westside subway extension and the Downtown Regional Connector. As the network expands, there is a public benefit in keeping fares low to encourage the maximum ridership.

 So who should be bearing the burden if not riders? To start, Metro should look at ways to shift some transit system costs onto drivers, which may sound unfair until you consider that they're getting a heavily subsidized ride on publicly built and maintained roads. If added fees make it less appealing for people to drive, that's a good thing; fewer cars on the road reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Metro should lobby for higher fuel taxes to fund mass transit, look at expanding tolling or congestion pricing to help pay for bus and rail rides, and charge for Metro parking lots.

The agency should also look again at a proposal to impose fees on new building development and should secure funding from the state's cap-and-trade program, which will generate billions of dollars to be spent fighting climate change. The benefits of public transit go far beyond the individual rider, and Metro's fare structure should reflect that greater good.

Artists in China strike blows against the smog


By Luke Whelen, May 20, 2014


When Kong Ning left her studio on Jan. 16, 2014, she was fed up. Pollution levels in Beijing had shot up to more than 18 times what the World Health Organization deems healthy. Outside, every other person wore a face mask to protect against the haze clinging to the city.

Before leaving, Kong Ning impulsively snatched one of her canvases and brought it with her. “The smog is really bad — I want people to see my painting,” she remembers thinking. The piece she’d grabbed, one of a series of 11 works in oil called “Smog Baby,” depicted a girl with different-colored eyes wearing a face mask.

In the nearly 14 years since she left her career as a lawyer, Kong Ning has devoted her life to creating art that expresses her feelings toward the environment she has watched deteriorate around her. That day, she wanted to make a statement.

“I thought that Tiananmen [Square] is the place all Chinese people feel the most strongly about [as a symbol],” she said of Beijing’s heavily policed central square, built by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958 and known for the protests that took place there in June 1989. “The pollution was bad so I just went there to document it.”

With the help of a tourist she encountered when she arrived there, she managed to take several photos of herself holding the painting in front of the iconic Chairman Mao picture that hangs on the Forbidden City. Then she was kicked out by armed guards. She immediately posted her photos on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media site, where they spread quickly. They plainly hit a nerve among frustrated Chinese netizens.


“For her carrying a canvas inside [Tiananmen Square], to do this kind of performance art, it’s really amazing and also brave,” said Catherine Cheng, Kong Ning’s friend and a prominent art curator who reposted the photo on her social media feed that day. Another person to pick up on the photo was a BBC journalist, who did a story about Kong Ning a couple of weeks later.

China’s chaotic economic development and the colossal energy needs of a population of 1.35 billion urbanizing citizens have left widespread land, water, and air pollution in their wake. A recent state study found that more than 19 percent of China’s farmland is polluted, and another study found that 60 percent of its groundwater is unhealthy.

Most recently, though, air pollution in China’s cities has caught the attention of global media. Over-reliance on coal-fired power plants, skyrocketing automobile emissions, and cold, dry winters have left northern cities like Beijing with smog and haze problems unimaginable in the Western world today.

Of course, the issue has its complexities: The development that’s causing the pollution has brought hundreds of millions out of poverty; China is traveling the same road blazed in previous centuries by industrializing powers in Europe and North America; besides, even if China is the world’s largest polluter, it is also investing the most in renewable energy and beginning to regulate its polluters.

However you view the causes and excuses, though, China’s air is in trouble. January 2013 saw China’s first “airpocalypse” — when air pollution in Beijing basically broke the metrics used to measure airborne particulate matter concentrations. The World Health Organization recommends that levels of PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, small enough to lodge in human lungs and bloodstreams) should stay below 25 micrograms per cubic meter; instead, days during that stretch far surpassed the 500 upper limit of the U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI). This past February saw extremely hazardous pollution levels again; AQI readings threatening to reach 500 persisted for more than a week.

While many Chinese people living in polluted cities have become increasingly frustrated, in a society that forbids public demonstration and political protest, most can do nothing more than complain to friends and family. Yet an increasing number of people are finding creative ways to both critique and document this era of air pollution, as well as to educate people how to protect themselves from it. They have resorted to performance art and public creative expression in the place of marching or soapboxing.

This past December, for example, several college students in the central city of Xi’an covered themselves in plastic, representing smog, and pretended to choke on it in a public square. Later in February, when pollution levels became dangerous for several days on end in Chongqing (further west in China), residents took to the streets on bikes wearing face masks with “CO2″ drawn on them behind a red, circular “prohibited” sign.

The same week that Kong Ning went to Tiananmen Square with her painting, students at Peking University crept around campus putting face masks on statues of historic scholars, like Communist Party co-founder Li Dazhao. The next day, 20 performers, also in face masks, gathered in front of the Temple of Heaven, the landmark in Beijing where the emperor used to pray for a good harvest, and laid themselves down in a symbolic prayer for clean air. In March, a group in the city of Changsha gathered for a symbolic funeral for China — which was dying, they implied, from air pollution.

Still others have used the internet to spread photos of these performances, as well as satirical songs and comics, on WeChat and Weibo, China’s most popular social media websites. In April, one Chinese artist made a splash during a trip to the south of France: According to the AP, he captured some Provencal countryside air in a glass jar and then put it up for bid at an auction attended by prominent Chinese art collectors. The jar fetched over $800.

Li Tianyuan, a prominent painter and art professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, blew up microscopic images of the pollution particles being inhaled by people living in polluted cities and has been showing them in prominent Beijing art galleries. “There are two goals,” he said. “The first is to make clear what this smog is. The second reason is to help everyone in society to protect themselves individually, to give them that awareness.”

In fact, it was only recently that the vast majority of Chinese people became aware of the hazards of smog — long after food contamination and water pollution had become hot-button issues.
Wu Di, who photographed the group prayer at the Temple of Heaven, remembers that the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing gave pause to many Chinese people, including himself.

“During the Olympics, I saw the American athletes wore face masks when they came to China,” he told me in his airy studio. (As with all the interviews in this story, I have translated his quotes.) “A lot of people thought that was very hard to understand. ‘Why are they wearing face masks?’ They felt these athletes were humiliating our country. But actually, from that time I already had started to think about how they weren’t wearing those face masks for no reason.”

At this point, Wu Di was still working 9 to 5 at a security surveillance firm, but he started to do some research in his spare time. He learned about PM2.5 particles and the health risks they pose. The United States Embassy in Beijing began publicizing the readings of PM2.5 levels in the city after the Olympics in 2008, and the American consulates in Guangzhou and Shanghai started sharing that data in following years. But the Chinese government did not follow suit, and pressured foreign governments to stop as well.

That changed with an extreme air pollution episode in October, 2011; by the next January, the Chinese government finally began publicizing its pollution readings. Since then, many more in China have realized the hazards of long-term exposure to particulates and have begun to take measures to protect themselves, like wearing face masks and buying air filters for their homes.

Wu Di quit his job not long after the Olympics to devote himself to photography highlighting the dangers of climate change and pollution. One image used on Greenpeace East Asia’s website shows a little girl holding two heart-shaped balloons. An air tube, the kind someone with emphysema would use, leads from her nostrils to the balloons. The hazy background features the iconic, hollow square building that serves as headquarters for China Central Television.

Another shows the same girl in front of the Temple of Heaven wearing 445 facemasks, the number Wu Di calculated she would need to wear by 2030 if pollution levels stayed the same.

“The goal [of my work] on the one hand is to create art, but on the other hand it is to hopefully help the public understand even better the environmental problems and how to protect themselves,” he said. “At the same time, it also tries to be a piece of criticism.”

The prayer performance at the Temple of Heaven, for example, was a biting message of how bad things had become, and Wu Di’s photo of it spread quickly through social media and on news sites.
Another goal of artists like Wu Di is to record the pollution for posterity. He has spent the past half-year taking pictures and video of the coal-fueled power plants in the provinces surrounding Beijing, which are responsible for most of the air pollution in northern Chinese cities. He finds the project important because many people don’t know where air pollution comes from. “A lot of people think it’s from automobiles or cooking,” he said.

He continued, “In the future, I want these works to accurately record a history of what’s going on in this era just like the 19th century in England or the industrial revolution in America.”

Li Tianyuan, the Tsinghua University art professor whose blown-up photographs of pollution particulates currently hang in the 3 Shadows Gallery in Beijing’s Caochangdi art district, wants to document the pollution, too, but on a smaller  – actually, microscopic — scale.

“A lot of people don’t know what PM2.5 is,” he said. “They are all talking about it but don’t know what it is exactly. I want to establish what all of the particles in the air look like so people can see them very clearly, and understand … where they come from.”

Kong Ning too hopes to “leave her art for later generations” while also warning people today of the dangers of neglecting their environment. “My main goal is to express … a desire to protect the environment and nature and life … because that is essentially all we have, right?”

Despite these efforts, waking up morning after morning to oppressive, deadening smog can become disheartening. But these artists maintain hope and a commitment to doing something, however small, about it.

“I still have hope. If there was no hope, I would not go out and do these things,” Wu Di said.

Ever Wonder How Chris Holden Became State Assembly Whip After Serving Less Than One Year In Office?


May 17, 2014

(Mod: The following is an article published by the Center for Investigative Reporting detailing how senior legislative positions in the California State Assembly are apparently being sold to the highest bidder. It is an astonishing report, and sheds more light on just how corrupt our one party state government has become. BTW: This is where Sierra Madre's RHNA numbers come from. So who's paying for that?)

 The Center For Investigative Reporting: California speaker gives Assembly's juiciest jobs to biggest fundraisers (link) - In May 2012 and again in June, Speaker John A. Pérez wrote memos to Democrats in the California Assembly. He wanted millions in campaign cash to win a handful of key races.

At stake, Pérez wrote, was their party’s control of the Assembly – and, as it turned out, the perks and power enjoyed by the lawmakers themselves.

“It is critical that we band together to maximize our financial resources,” the burly Los Angeles legislative leader wrote in the memos, copies of which were obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The lawmakers gave Pérez what he wanted, state campaign finance records show.

Exploiting loopholes in a law enacted to stanch the flow of big money in state politics, the Assembly Democrats pumped $5.8 million into the campaigns Pérez designated, a CIR data analysis shows. The infusion of cash helped the Democrats win a supermajority in the Capitol: two-thirds control of the Legislature for the first time since 1883.

The system also paid off for the speaker’s biggest fundraisers in the Assembly.

According to the data, Pérez gave lawmakers who raised the most money the best assignments in the new Legislature – posts on the speaker’s leadership team and seats on the powerful “juice committees.”

These are seven of the Assembly’s 30 standing policy committees. They control bills affecting the financial bottom line for the Capitol’s wealthiest interest groups: from banks, insurance companies and public utilities to casinos, racetracks and liquor distributors. For lawmakers who serve on them, the committees are a source of political campaign “juice”: abundant donations.

Pérez’s spokesman John Vigna said the speaker makes legislative assignments based on merits, not money.

“There is absolutely no connection, zero connection, between Speaker Pérez’s leadership selections and any political considerations, including fundraising,” he said.

Speaker Pérez chooses his leadership team based on their ability to serve the people of California” and nothing else, Vigna added.

CIR’s analysis of more than 38,000 contributions to Assembly Democrats in the 2011-12 campaign shows a link between donations to the speaker’s targeted races and a lawmaker’s prospects for important legislative assignments.

Among the findings:

- The mega-donors to Pérez’s targets, three lawmakers who gave more than $250,000, obtained positions of power. Each was named to either a leadership post or chairmanship of a juice committee, along with a seat on at least one juice committee. The top donor, Toni Atkins of San Diego, was named Assembly majority floor leader, next to the speaker, the top leadership post.

- Lawmakers who gave more than $150,000 were likely to get multiple important posts. All 18 got one juice committee seat, and 16 got a leadership post, chairmanship of a juice committee or a seat on a second juice committee.

- Lawmakers who gave less got less. Donors who contributed less than $150,000 stood a 13 percent chance of heading a juice committee or joining the leadership. No lawmaker who gave less than $40,000 was named chairman of a juice committee.

California’s Assembly speakers, Democrat and Republican alike, long have courted the state’s monied interests, seeking campaign funds to win or maintain power in the Legislature. Despite efforts to break this cycle, most speakers also have given political allies leadership posts, committee assignments and other perks.

The Pérez memos and the pattern of donations that followed them provide new insights into how those dynamics played out in the 2012 campaign.

Phillip Ung, policy advocate for the political reform group California Common Cause, said CIR’s findings are reason for concern.

“This system of campaign finance buying leadership on committees” has nothing to do with good government, he said.

“When voters see someone is chair of a committee, their expectation is that person is there because that person is a policy expert, not because they bought that chair,” Ung said.

Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, described lawmakers as “prisoners” of a process that requires endless political fundraising.

“It costs vast amounts of money to run campaigns, so it is understandable that the ability to raise money might play a role in legislative assignments,” said Lange, whose group favors public financing of campaigns. “What this story tells us is we have to find a better system.”

Pérez, 43, is a former labor union official and cousin of then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, himself a former Assembly speaker. In 2008, with the mayor’s backing, Pérez won his first elected office, an Assembly seat in a heavily Democratic downtown district. The following year, he was elected speaker. Even in an era of term limits, Pérez must leave the Assembly next year, he has emerged as one of California’s most powerful officials.

As the memos make clear, Pérez as speaker has sought to raise money to maintain control of the Assembly, which Democrats have dominated for more than 16 years.

But raising money is complicated by a campaign finance law aimed at limiting the influence of big money on state elections.

For decades, California had no limits on political donations in state campaigns. In those years, the task of raising money for Assembly races often fell to the speaker, experts say. Willie Brown, speaker from 1981 to 1995, told his biographer that he raised up to $8 million per year, much of it from interest groups with business before the Legislature, and spent the money on Democratic campaigns and causes. Republican leaders did the same thing, he contended.

After recurrent scandals and calls for reform, state voters in 1996 had had enough. They enacted an extraordinarily tough law to blunt the power of special interests in the Capitol: Proposition 208. The measure said a donor could give no more than $250 to a candidate for the Legislature. But the courts called the measure too restrictive, and it never went into effect.

In 2000, then-Gov. Gray Davis and state lawmakers sponsored Proposition 34, a substitute measure that they said also would tamp down the influence of big money in state politics while passing constitutional muster. It had a less-restrictive donation cap, $3,900 in 2012 legislative races, and allowed unlimited donations to state political parties. Voters passed it, too.

For a time, Prop. 34 checked the growth of spending in legislative races, experts say.

But as Pérez’s memos show, in 2012, the speaker devised a strategy to sidestep the $3,900 donation cap and direct millions in contributions to key campaigns.

One memo was written before the June primary and the other in anticipation of the general election in November. In the memos, Pérez ticked off exactly what he wanted from the Assembly’s Democrats, who then numbered 52.

For five Assembly candidates facing tough primary campaigns, the speaker wanted each Democrat to give a total of $19,500 – the legal limit of $3,900 per candidate. In the general election, Perez sought $23,400 more from each Democrat. That represented maximum $3,900 donations to candidates in six races Perez targeted.

Pérez said it was critically important to elect the lawmakers to maintain Democratic power in the Assembly.

For the state Democratic Party’s “candidates support fund,” which by law can funnel contributions to targeted campaigns, Pérez asked for $65,000, also split between the primary and general elections.

Finally, the speaker asked for $20,000 to support Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s successful tax hike measure, payable to a separate fund set up by the speaker.

Pérez told the lawmakers not to send the money directly to the campaigns. Instead, “for proper tracking,” they were told to deliver the money to an office the speaker maintains near the Capitol.

To comply, each lawmaker faced the challenge of raising more than $127,000 for Pérez – on top of the $630,000 that, on average, he or she would need for his or her own re-election campaign.

In the end, the Democrats gave more money than the speaker had requested. Republicans lost in all the races Pérez targeted, and Democrats wound up with 55 seats in the 80-seat Assembly – one seat more than needed for a two-thirds majority.

Reaping benefits
Meanwhile, as Pérez doled out legislative assignments between August and January, those who gave the most money reaped larger benefits, CIR’s analysis indicates.

“Giving contributions to earn yourself a chair or a seat on a powerful committee is not how voters would like to see governing taking place,” said Ung, the Common Cause advocate.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, the Assembly’s top donor, gave $282,000 to the targeted races, records show. In addition to naming her majority leader, Pérez kept Atkins on a juice committee on which she had served in the previous term: the Health Committee, which has jurisdiction over the heavily regulated health care industry. Before going into politics, Atkins worked as clinical director at a women’s health clinic, according to her Assembly website.

With health care finance a dominating issue, records show that health care interests donated $4.8 million to Assembly Democrats in 2012, with more than half going to members of the Health Committee or Pérez’s leadership team.

 Henry Perea of Fresno, a Pérez loyalist who gave a total of $277,000, was named chairman of the committee that oversees the insurance industry. He retained seats on two other juice committees: the Governmental Organization Committee, with jurisdiction over casino gaming, horse racing and the alcoholic beverage industry; and the Banking and Finance Committee, which oversees financial institutions. Perea is a former Fresno City Council member who previously worked as a congressman’s aide.

Pérez’s No. 3 donor, Mike Gatto of Los Angeles, gave $258,000 to the targeted races. The speaker promoted him to be chairman of the most powerful juice committee, the Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over fiscal bills. Gatto also kept his seat on the Banking and Finance Committee. He is a former congressional aide who later practiced civil law.

Gatto declined to comment, referring a query to the speaker. Atkins and Perea didn’t respond to requests for comment.

CIR’s analysis shows that $150,000 was a cutoff of sorts. Most lawmakers who donated more than $150,000 to the speaker’s targeted races obtained important committee assignments or leadership posts.

Including the three mega-donors, 18 lawmakers broke the $150,000 threshold. Pérez named six of them to head juice committees. Five more got leadership posts, and another five got two or more juice committee assignments.

Nancy Skinner of Berkeley gave $201,000 to the targets. She continues to serve as chairwoman of the Rules Committee, a post that is part of Pérez’s leadership team, and sits on two juice committees: Business, Professions and Consumer Protection, which supervises occupational licensing and state regulatory agencies; and Utilities and Commerce, which regulates energy companies and public utilities. She is a former Berkeley City Council member and environmental activist. Of her fundraising, Skinner wrote in a statement: “I am enthusiastic to support our Caucus efforts to elect great Assemblymembers.”

Roger Hernández of West Covina, who donated $185,000, wound up with seats on three juice committees: Governmental Organization, Utilities and Commerce, and Health. He was Pérez’s majority whip, but the speaker replaced him in December, after a former girlfriend accused Hernández in court of abusing her and using illegal drugs. Hernández didn’t respond to interview requests.

Pérez named two major donors to leadership posts even though they were incoming freshman assemblymen and thus had no Capitol experience.

Former Pasadena City Council member Chris Holden managed to steer $199,000 to Pérez’s targets, even as he was raising money to win what at one point was a five-way contest for an open Assembly seat.

Pérez made him Majority Whip, replacing Hernández. Holden also was named to two juice committees: Appropriations and Business, Professions and Consumer Protection. In a statement, Holden said he believed he was named whip because of his long service in local government.

Anthony Rendon of South Gate, near Los Angeles, an educator and environmental activist, gave $191,000 to Pérez’s targets while raising money for his first run for legislative office. After Rendon was elected, Pérez named the newcomer assistant majority floor leader and appointed him to the Utilities and Commerce Committee.

In March, Pérez removed Rendon from the leadership team and named him chairman of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. It’s not considered a juice committee, but it will play an important role in shaping a proposed $11 billion state water bond measure. Rendon spokesman Bill Wong said his boss requested the new assignment because of serious water issues in his district.

Leaner prospects

John A. Perez
For lawmakers who steered less than $150,000, prospects were leaner, the analysis shows.

Eighteen lawmakers gave between $40,000 and $150,000. Of those, two were named to leadership positions, and one became chairman of a juice committee. Donations at this lower level didn’t appear to give lawmakers traction with Pérez, according to the analysis.

Prospects were poorest for lawmakers who gave less than $40,000. None of this group of 18 lawmakers was named to head a juice committee, and two were named to leadership posts.

Perhaps because of personal or political considerations, some lawmakers fared better than others – even when they donated roughly the same amount of money to Pérez’s targets.

For example, Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach and Das Williams of Santa Barbara were among 18 Democrats who gave more than $150,000 to Perez’s targets.

All the others in that group got a leadership post, a juice committee chairmanship or seats on two juice committees. Lowenthal and Williams got one juice committee. Lowenthal also was reappointed as chairwoman of the Committee on Transportation – not a juice committee. She didn’t respond to interview requests.

In a phone interview, Williams said hard work – not fundraising – is the key to determining who gets good legislative posts.

“The people who work the hardest here often are the people who fundraise a lot and also happen to be the ones who get more assignments,” he said. “It comes down to, ‘Are you a hard worker?’ just as much as anything else.”

Williams said he is satisfied with his own assignments.

“I wanted to be on Utilities and Commerce because I have a passion for alternative energy, not necessarily because it’s a juice committee, but it happens to be one,” he said.

Similarly, Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo of Salinas donated $128,000 to Perez’s targets, while freshman lawmaker Kevin Mullin of San Mateo donated slightly more, $137,000.

Alejo was shut out of leadership slots and juice committees. But Mullin, son of former Assemblyman Gene Mullin, was given both a leadership post – assistant speaker pro tem – and a seat on the Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.

Another exception was newly elected Assemblyman Phil Ting, the former city assessor-recorder of San Francisco. He gave no money to targeted races, but Pérez named him to the leadership post of caucus chairman.

Like many freshmen, Ting couldn’t be blamed for failing to donate in the other races: He spent $1 million to win a tough fight against a well-financed opponent and had  $17,000 left when the race was over. Perhaps more to the point, Ting and Pérez have been friends since they were classmates at UC Berkeley.

The experience of Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada of Davis was more typical.

Yamada raised $249,000 to win re-election, with significant contributions from unions for state employees and teachers. She donated $9,600 to the targeted races, the least of any incumbent Assembly Democrat. When Pérez parceled out leadership posts and slots on the juice committees, Yamada was passed over.

Instead, the former social worker was reappointed as chairwoman of the Assembly’s low-profile Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care. She didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Pérez’s own donations to the campaigns he targeted were modest. Records show he gave $164,000, less than 17 other Assembly Democrats. But Pérez was a formidable fundraiser for his own re-election, obtaining $2.6 million.

Pérez cruised to re-election in his Los Angeles district, winning more than 82 percent of the vote. He had $1.2 million left over, which by law he can use for a future campaign after he leaves the Assembly. This year, he has raised $103,100 for a campaign for lieutenant governor, records show.

(Mod: Our Assemblyman, pay to play Chris Holden, is running entirely unopposed for reelection this year. He is guaranteed to retain his seat. As you can plainly see, one party government and the resulting corruption works wonders in California.)

In the Pedways of Los Angeles Past, a Vision of a Pedestrian-Friendly Future

Despite its reputation, L.A. has deep walkable roots.


By Don Koeppel, May 20, 2014


 LOS ANGELES—The pedestrians moving along the elevated walkway at the center of downtown Los Angeles barely notice the bronze plaque, even when they’re stepping on it. If they do see it, the face sculpted into the memorial — that of Calvin Hamilton — is barely visible, scuffed and worn after years of traffic. It is also hard to tell exactly what Hamilton did to deserve such an honor. There's nothing in the engraving's text describing his Quixotic attempt to transform the city, or how he failed, miserably, to implement that plan. And there's certainly nothing to imply that Hamilton was a visionary, one of the first to recognize that Los Angeles had a problem with cars — and to try to solve that problem.

For the record, this is what the memorial says:

The word "pedway" is the key to understanding the planner's vision. It is also the name of the peculiar kind of urban passage, the centerpiece of Hamilton's design, where the plaque itself sits. Hamilton's commemoration isn't on a city street or sidewalk. It's pressed into a circle of concrete on a pedestrian bridge at the heart of downtown, just a few yards from the Hollywood Freeway and a stone's throw from City Hall. About a dozen such pedways exist along Bunker Hill, the once-stately Los Angeles neighborhood that became, in the 1960s and early 1970s, an urbanized pod of skyscrapers and corporate plazas.

The pedways are the last remaining artifacts of Hamilton's vision. But the Los Angeles of the 21st century that is growing around them — more pedestrian friendly and deeply invested in public transit — reflect a city that's finally catching up with a figure it has mostly forgotten.

For Hamilton, those initial twelve pedways were supposed to be just the beginning. He envisioned hundreds across the city's 500 square miles. The Los Angeles he dreamed of would have been divided into 29 "Centers," or islands of development, connected by pedways, moving sidewalks, monorails, and mass transit. Beyond those intentionally-crowded zones, Hamilton proposed a Los Angeles of limits. Density would be restricted in residential communities; motor vehicles and rail would be given equal treatment; commercial development would be regulated; and parks — lots of parks — would be constructed.

Hamilton's plan, officially called "Concept Los Angeles" (it is also called the "Centers Plan"), debuted in 1970. The Los Angeles City Council passed it. But implementation immediately became bogged down in fights between developers, community advocates, and political forces. Without any practical plan at all, Los Angeles began to sprawl, and in 1986, city officials decided that Hamilton — who'd been accused of a conflict-of-interest over his involvement in a tourism venture — had to go.

"Cal's style is visionary, and that has served a purpose," former city council President Pat Russell told the Los Angeles Times. "But we're entering an era of implementation."
For the next two decades, "implementation" led to a city that was hostile to the needs of pedestrians, bike riders, and mass transit users. Unchecked growth meant freeways; it meant that Los Angeles continually topped lists of America's most polluted and slowest-moving cities. It meant that the memory of Hamilton, who died in 1997, was relegated to a faded plaque.

                                                       •       •       •       •       •

I moved to Los Angeles in 1989, and being a native New Yorker, immediately wondered whether it was possibly to actual travel my adopted city on foot. The answer, back then, was yes and no. If you lived in the city's crowded east side, then you absolutely could walk. And you wouldn't be alone, since tens of thousands of people — most poor, many immigrants, few owning cars — walked everywhere, too.
Los Angeles as sketched out in the 1970 "Concept Los Angeles" plan by Calvin Hamilton.
But for vast segments of the city, walking was almost impossible. Wide boulevards stretched west from the city's center. Many of them were intentionally built without sidewalks. Pedestrian crossings were sometimes a half-mile apart, and the police maintained a vigilance when it came to jaywalkers that one could only wish they'd have maintained in terms of drivers who treated those wide avenues as freeways. If you did walk in Los Angeles, you were either poor or wildly eccentric.

But I walked, a lot. It helped that I'm a bit obsessive — and found a focus for that obsession when I discovered, and began to catalogue, the dozens of public stairways that dotted Silver Lake, the neighborhood just west of downtown where I lived. I would travel with map in hand, counting and charting and modifying my route to make sure it was complete. If walking was an oddball activity, I wanted to create a community of oddballs. I wanted people to know that, tucked less than 100 yards from the always jammed Interstate 5 was a mile-long dirt road that felt like rural Vermont. I wanted to people to know about a passageway that's squeezed, ridiculously, between the north and southbound lanes of the 110 Freeway. If pedestrians can find the entrance, they can walk in what is fundamentally a two-mile long cage, designed to protect them from traffic. At night, the effect is such that walkers feel swept up by shimmering waves of light, red and white,  from the head and taillights of the vehicles hurtling by.

I began to show my favorite spots to friends, and soon, my public walks were attracting hundreds of people. The Big Parade, as it was called, garnered media attention, too, which often included a headline or lead paragraph that riffed on the horrible key lyric in the horrible 1982 Missing Persons song: "Nobody Walks in LA." "If you believe that," I'd usually say, "you must only be looking through a car windshield."
A frieze in the World Trade Center in Bunker Hill was supposed to be the centerpiece of Calvin Hamilton's pedway plan.
One afternoon, I met a friend who promised to show me something new downtown. We met at the bottom of Angels Flight, a restored funicular railroad that's now a tourist ride, but which once was part of a series of vertical transports key — just like public stairways — to getting people to and from their destinations in a city whose geographic contours were created by tectonic upthrusts. In Bunker Hill's World Trade Center building, we entered a nearly empty passage that ended in a room with a beautifully sculpted frieze. The frieze celebrated various workers (trucks and granaries, cotton gins, trains, and tankers) but it also celebrated the passage itself. It was originally intended as the centerpiece in a whole network of such passages: Calvin Hamilton's plan.

At the end of the hallway, we turned again, emerging thirty feet above Figueroa Street, crossing above the rush-hour traffic into a busy hotel. A sign marked "pedway" directed us down a flight of stairs, into the hotel’s lobby; we crossed the street, arriving at a spiral staircase that led up to another high-line style sidewalk. It followed the east side of Figueroa for a block before opening up into a rounded, miniature plaza. At the center of the plaza — like the hub in a wheel — was the scuffed plaque. I took a picture and made a note: Find out who Calvin Hamilton was.

•       •       •       •       •

Through much of 2013, one of the most popular museum exhibits in Los Angeles was on display at the tiny Architecture & Design Museum in the Mid-Wilshire District, right about where sidewalk-free streets begin to appear. "Never Built Los Angeles" was an astonishing catalogue of foolhardy concepts, magical thinking, and most of all, hoped-for utopias. The exhibit showed dozens of proposed "improvements" on Los Angeles — from a bicycle freeway with toll booths to a "super-community" of pods to Hamilton's pedways — each of which not only envisioned paradise but aggressively dismissed previous visions of perfection.
A view from one of the remaining original pedways in Calvin Hamilton's plan. 
Hyperbolic insensibility wasn't just limited to things that never (or barely) got underway. One of the founding documents of Los Angeles as it exists today is the city's 1941 master plan. The 112-page charter barely mentioned pedestrians, bicycles, buses, or trolleys — all of which were major modes of transportation in the years leading up to World War II — and instead stated in emphatic capital letters: "HIGHWAY TRANSPORTATION IS MASS TRANSPORTATION." With those words, freeway construction began, playing a game of leapfrog that continues to this day: capacity is estimated and exceeded, leading to suggestions that the problem is simply not enough freeways.

Freeway construction isn't over in Los Angeles — there are a couple of projects still on the books — but there's near-universal agreement that, certainly by Hamilton’s time, the idea that freeways were free – or fast – wasn’t panning out. Population had risen to six million; the number of vehicles exceeded three million, and the city was beginning a decades-long run as the nation's most polluted and congested urban area. (Lately we're doing better with pollution, thanks to cleaner cars, but we remain the city where people spend more time in traffic than anywhere else in the country.)

It was against that backdrop that Hamilton came up with his Concept Los Angeles. He didn't want to eliminate cars; instead, he came up with a whole second level for Los Angeles, a place where people would be removed from their vehicles. "Automobiles will be restricted to the ground level," Hamilton wrote. "Interconnected pathways for pedestrian circulation will be provided at the second floor and higher levels. This nearly complete separation of vehicles, transit, and pedestrians, will enhance the convenience, safety, and pleasantness of the core."

The dozen pedways surrounding Bunker Hill were all that Hamilton was able to see constructed, and all that's left. The arguments against the pedway system were numerous. It would be too expensive. It would segregate people from "real life" down below. But mostly the plan failed because Hamilton sought to restrict growth outside of his centers, which brought him into conflict with development interests. The result of Hamilton's lack of political skills — and the city's lack of political will — was the ugly sprawl that now defines L.A.'s outer suburbs: Intersections with fast-food restaurants at each corner; big box stores stacked into shopping centers as big as New England towns; and especially interminable, grinding commutes from the outer suburbs into the central business districts.

After his resignation, Hamilton continued to promote his vision as the best possible way to build a more human-scale city. "The term 'Los Angelization' has been used to denote uncontrolled growth," Hamilton wrote in a 1986 article in the Journal of the American Planning Association. "Someday 'Los Angelization' could come to mean controlled growth and preservation of the quality of life."

•       •       •       •       •

So where can we see the Los Angeles that Hamilton envisioned? For a long time, the answer was only in the ultimate regional fantasy product: the movies. The multi-tiered city envisioned by Concept Los Angeles played a huge role in 1982's Blade Runner, which is set in 2019. A more recent science fiction film, Spike Jonze's Her, used the pedways of downtown as a location, extending them and (with the help of computer-generated imagery) fulfilling Hamilton's plan, at least for downtown. Though I loved the movie, the storyline also seemed to confirm the worst criticisms of the Hamilton plan: rather than bringing people together, a multi-level Los Angeles turned out to be a segregating force, making people so isolated that they're forced to take virtual lovers.
People gather near the Hamilton plaque during the 2013 Big Parade. (Flickr user saschmitz_earthlink_net)
Whatever flaws in Hamilton's own plan, he deserves credit for recognizing the social drawbacks of an urban vision that insists on seeing passenger cars as mass transit, pedestrians and bus riders and bike riders as superfluous, and building out rather than up. The question, almost two decades after Hamilton’s death, is how to get Los Angeles back on track. Today, Los Angeles County has 6.6 million registered motor vehicles and a population of more than 9 million. Commute times along its 20,000 miles of road, including 520 miles of freeway, are getting worse: in 2013 Angelinos averaged 64 hours in traffic, up from 59 the year before. There are positive signs, but a sort of institutional schizophrenia is still underway; though there are more plans to create bike lanes, extend sidewalks, and build new transit lines, those plans are often met with fierce — and usually irrational — opposition. "The problem is that policy hasn't caught up with reality," says Jessica Meaney, a member of the board of Los Angeles Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group.

Evidence of this gap comes as the California Department of Transportation keeps plans on the books for the region's last remaining to-be-built freeway, the 710, which would connect Pasadena to Long Beach. I recently was asked to lead a group of CalTrans officials on a tour of the pedways. The question of the 710 is kryptonite to many of them, but a few told me that they knew that adding a few more miles of freeway won't help the problem. "We know that the key is reducing the numbers of cars on the road," one freeway planner told me. "Not building more lanes."

For pedestrians, building is exactly what's needed. The city's sidewalks are in horrible shape (Hamilton's elevated pedways are an exception). Many of them were built in the 1920s, and tree roots have twisted and tilted them, creating hazards that have led to multiple trip-and-fall lawsuits, including a pair that were settled for $85 million. The city says that nearly half of its 10,000 miles of sidewalks need repairs, and the estimated cost for such a project tops $1.5 billion — an amount that dwarfs the city's sidewalk repair budget for 2013-2014, $10 million. Meaney says that part of the problem is that transit officials see street repairs and sidewalk repairs as separate issues. There needs to be a more holistic approach, she says, to making sure L.A.'s infrastructure is safe, well-maintained, and positioned for a future when fewer people will need or want cars.

 In the meantime, the pedways still hover above the city, and make for a fun walk. Some people actually use them to commute, the way Hamilton intended. But their utility is limited by something Hamilton would have approved of: a flourishing downtown. Los Angeles is discovering that people don't need to be separate from cars the way Hamilton envisioned, they simply need to be celebrated above them. Along Bunker Hill and beyond, residential life — which for decades has felt like an afterthought in the city's core — is thriving. New housing, development along the Los Angeles River, and even a trolley line are all planned or under construction. The new downtown has mostly dispensed with attempts to tilt toward utopian ideas, focusing instead on common-sense notions for better lives.

The pedways may remain an artifact, rather than something useful, and there's been talk recently of whether they should continue to be maintained. I say they should, and the first step should be restoring that plaque. That should lead to a second phase of rehabilitation — Hamilton's reputation. It's a good direction for Los Angeles to walk.

Where Obama's Plan to Improve Urban Mobility Went Wrong

The legacy of interstate policy spoiled any big plans for more livable cities.


By Eric Jaffe, May 21, 2014


Distant as it may seem today, there was a time early in the Obama administration when Hope felt like more than just a pretty campaign promise. That was especially true for the President's ambitious transportation plans. Calls for "livability" were interpreted as a bold shift away from the car and highway dependence that had defined 20th century urban mobility in the United States.

Then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced an efficient future in which people would run their daily errands "all without having to get in your car."

Fast forward five years since that 2009 pledge, and many of the most hopeful transformations have yet to arrive. A proposed national network of high-speed rail is little more than a wishful map. The Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road maintenance as well as transit programs, will run out of money any month. Streetcars with questionable mobility value represent perhaps the most visible addition to city transport systems. There have been some minor victories — transit use is up in places, and bike systems are robust in others — but many more defeats.

Where did it all go wrong? There's never one simple answer to a question like that, but transport historian Michael Fein of Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, offers a pretty convincing case that the biggest barrier to LaHood's livable cities program was the legacy of the Interstate Highway System. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban History, Fein argues that decades-old policies favoring urban expressways (and, more specifically, regional mega-malls situated at interchanges) spoiled the broader campaign for better urban mobility:

Working toward walkable, local-oriented, human-scale, "livable" communities and economies entailed a rejection of the regionally oriented commercial and commuting patterns fostered by the Interstates. Realigning these long-standing DOT priorities would prove no easy feat.
The best example Fein offers in support of his point comes from a 2011 plan for a new interchange in Provo, Utah, called the West Side Connector. One option for the project was to route traffic through downtown Provo on a system of local roads. This pro-downtown alternative — supported by the Army Corps of Engineers — would have given a boost to the city's central business district and overall economic fortunes. In short, it would have served DOT's stated goal of livability.

Instead, federal highway officials pushed for a direct link between the connector and Interstate 15 to meet "driver expectations." The Provo Towne Centre Mall, located at an I-15 interchange, would stand to benefit from this option — in particular Home Depot, which would have lost about an acre of parking and some highway visibility from the downtown alternative.

The Provo case is hardly an outlier. In 2011, for instance, North Carolina widened Interstate 85 to ease entry to Concord Mills, while Wisconsin built an interchange off Interstate 94 to serve a Town Centre mall thirty miles from Milwaukee. These and other projects that facilitated car access to mega-malls on the fringes of metro areas, concludes Fein, "undermined the livable community LaHood envisioned":
Had federal officials been serious about challenging auto dependency and linking transportation, housing, energy, and environmental policy goals, then policy makers and planners would have had to directly confront historic development patterns that the Interstate highway system had long fostered. As part of that confrontation, transportation officials would have to undertake a more careful reckoning of the costs of highway economies to livable communities.
Fein seems unsure where to issue this reckoning. Was the livability program "undermined" by entrenched highway interests? Or were federal officials not serious enough about their intentions? He does lay much of the blame on the term livability itself; imprecise for policy purposes, it meant different things to different people, and in that way often meant nothing at all.

 But he also notes, as any good historian must, that it's far too soon for a full assessment of Obama's livability goals. The current push offers clear progress over previous iterations — first Carter's weak Livable Cities initiative, which focused on the arts, then Clinton's Building Livable Communities Program, which emphasized urban parks — and even unrequited boldness deserves some praise. At least, that would be the hopeful view.