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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This week in Community Buzz on the State Route 710 North Study (with images, tweets)


 This week in Community Buzz on the State Route 710 North Study

We're listening. Are you? Here's a roundup of community news for the week of June 3, 2014...

Week of June 3, 2014

The City of Alhambra dedicated banners around town expressing its view on the Tunnel Alternative
Fremont/Valley backed up as city of Alhambra unveils banners ("Relieve Congestion") in support of closing the 710 gap

Several newly-installed banners in are in support a 55 yr effort to "close the gap" on the 710 Fwy. http://cbsloc.al/1kAMf6g 

NO710 Protests Alhambra event. (Joe Cano video).

Pasadena City Council is considering setting up a special task force for the State Route 710 North Study.
Lately, many letters have appeared in the Pasadena Star News from neighbors voicing their perspective on the the pros and cons of the Tunnel Alternative.

And you might recall early last month, Zocalo Public Square tackled the issue from a regional perspective.
Zócalo: What Does Southern California Need From the 710 Freeway?
Zócalo: What Does Southern California Need From the 710 Freeway?
Zócalo: What Does Southern California Need From the 710 Freeway?
There's much dialogue but there is one thing missing...the data, more of which will be available when the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Study is released in February 2015. Through that analysis we will know more about the benefits, the impacts & how key issues will be addressed. Learn more: metro.net/sr710study or on Facebook!
SR-710 North Study: Working for a Solution (English)

San Francisco transit-workers sickout ends, Muni service restored


By Veronica Rocha and Joseph Serna, June 5, 2014

 Muni sickout in San Francisco comes to an end. Rails cars returned to service Thursday.

Cable cars in San Francisco began running again Thursday after a three-day sickout by some workers had seriously hampered bus and light-rail transit service.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced that the city’s light-rail, cable cars and bus systems were returning to their regular routes as workers, upset over a proposed contract, returned to the job.

When the sickout started Monday, Muni service was operating at 54%, but transit officials expected that to return to 90% Thursday.
The sickout came after a vote Friday by Muni operators on a proposed contract calling for them to contribute 7.5% of their pay toward their pensions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera filed unfair labor practice charges Wednesday with the Public Employees Relations Board against the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A to end the sickout.

“This is an unfortunate attempt by the union to get around a law and contract provisions they don’t like,” Herrera said in a statement. “The Charter is clear that an impasse such as this one is resolved with neutral arbitration. Let’s do what the law says, begin the arbitration process and get San Francisco moving again as soon as humanly possible.”

 Eric Williams, the union's president, urged workers on Wednesday to remain calm in light of the new charges.

"As we proceed with our efforts to negotiate a fair contract, I urge all of you to remain calm and to resume and continue the excellent service we give the public," he said in a statement.

The region’s other transportation alternative, Bay Area Rapid Transit, honored Muni passes during the sickout.

Twice last year, BART workers initiated their own strikes, temporarily paralyzing the region.

China’s investment in Los Angeles County has doubled in last 5 years, new report says


By Kevin Smith, June 5, 2014

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach maintained their ranking as the nation’s top gateway for international trade last year and container traffic through the twin ports is expected to rise 5.5 percent this year and 5.8 percent in 2015.

Those are just some of the findings included in a pair of reports to be released today by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The LAEDC’s “International Trade Outlook for the Southern California Region 2014-2015” examines the Southland’s trade sector from a broad perspective, and “Growing Together: China and Los Angeles County” speaks to the growing trade synergy between Southern California and China.
The latter report notes that investment into Los Angeles County from China has doubled over the past five years, with China becoming one of the county’s top investors.

And tourism nearly quadrupled in recent years from 158,000 Chinese tourists in 2009 to 570,000 in 2013, making China the top overseas market for Los Angeles tourism.

Much of the growth in those areas has been fueled by the fact that Los Angeles County has the largest Chinese population of any county in the nation and the largest number of Chinese students.

“International trade is a significant industry for our local economy because we are the gateway to the U.S.,” said Robert Kleinhenz, the LAEDC’s chief economist. “It always ranks among the top three industries for Southern California from one year to the next, and it competes with entertainment.”

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach posted a strong year in 2013 with a combined increase in cargo of roughly 3 percent, primarily because of a stronger than expected peak season and stronger than anticipated activity in November and December.

Growth trends between the two ports have shifted as a result of shippers forming alliances to allow cargo volumes to move more fluidly between the two destinations. Because of that, total loaded cargo volume at the Port of Los Angeles was down by about 4 percent in 2013, but it was up more than 12 percent at the Port of Long Beach.

“The alliance allows multiple shippers to share space on their ships regardless of the port of call,” Kleinhenz said. “So it may be advantageous in some cases for a company to put all of their stuff on one ship as opposed to having separate ships. We tend to pay less attention to the trends at individual ports and look more at the overall activity of both ports for that reason.”

Disparities aside, the two ports still maintained their top two rankings in the U.S. in 2013, handling a total of 14.6 million containers — a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year.

More than 40 percent of the nation’s imported containers pass through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Los Angeles Customs District (LACD) — which includes the two ports and Los Angeles International Airport and Ontario International Airport — also maintained its top position in the U.S. last year with a two-way trade value of $414.5 billion. Los Angeles International Airport contributed to that total with $91.6 billion in air cargo.

In 2013, the value of total two-way trade at the LACD increased by 2.7 percent on a year-over-year basis.

The China report notes that over the past 30-plus years trade (goods only) between the U.S. and China jumped from about $4.8 billion to $562 billion. U.S. exports to China have likewise grown from $3.8 billion to $122 billion in 2013.

LACD exports to China have grown by more than 52 percent since 2009, setting records at the Port of Los Angeles in 2010 and 2011 in both value and the number of containers.

“That is the important message,” said Ferdinando Guerra, an international economist with the LAEDC. “That gap between imports and exports is decreasing, and that’s important.”
Last year the value of LACD exports to China totaled nearly $22 billion, well below the $147.3 billion in imports.
“We’ll continue to see that gap narrow because wages are rising in China and we’ll be importing more products from countries like Vietnam,” Guerra said. “(Vietnam is) about where China was 10 to 20 years ago in their economic development.”

Computers, machinery, appliances and parts topped the LACD’s 2013 export list to China with a value of $4.7 billion. That was followed by electrical equipment, TVs and electronic parts ($3.8 billion), plastics and items made of plastic ($2.8 billion) and motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts ($2.3 billion), among others.

Top imports included computers, machinery, appliances and parts ($41.8 billion), electrical equipment, TVs and electronic parts ($40.6 billion) and furniture, bedding and lamps ($11.1 billion).
China was the LACD’s top trading partner in 2013, followed by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and Vietnam.

Many have speculated that the widening of the Panama Canal will reduce local trade activity because it will provide larger cargo ships with a quicker route to East Coast ports. The expansion is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

Guerra admitted that is a concern, but he said those fears are largely overblown.

“We won’t have a significant loss in traffic from that, maybe 5 to 10 percent,” he said. “And we may be get larger exports from outside ports that could negate some of those losses.”

San Francisco transit workers call in sick for third day


June 4, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s famed cable cars remained idle on Wednesday morning on the third day of a worker sickout, but light-rail trains and buses returned to their regular routes as service improved.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was operating at about 70 percent of its normal service, up from 50 percent a day earlier and 33 percent on Monday, spokesman Paul Rose said.
Rose said cable cars could also resume service in the afternoon.

“The fact that we have more vehicles on the street than the last two days leaves us cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Workers and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are at odds over a new contract. Workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal on Friday that union officials said would have resulted in a pay cut.

The drivers’ union president, Eric Williams, said Tuesday that the labor group has nothing to do with the sick calls and urged those who called out to be prepared to have a doctor’s note.

The agency known as Muni runs buses, light rail and street cars in addition to the cable cars and serves about 700,000 passengers each day. Its operators, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, rejected the contract by a 1,198-42 vote Friday, according to totals on the union’s website.

Williams declined to comment on operators calling in sick because he said the union had no role in sanctioning the move. He sent a letter to union members Tuesday urging them to only use sick leave for “legitimate purposes.”

The workers are not allowed to go on strike, but they can call in sick.

Transit officials said those who reported being sick must confirm they were ill to get sick pay and could be subject to discipline up to being fired.

Williams told union members “to resume and continue the excellent service we give the public” and that while having a doctor’s note is not normal practice, the agency has emphasized it because of the callouts.

Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement that he joins riders throughout the city in their frustration at the drivers who have “irresponsibly abandoned their jobs and intentionally disrupted” service.

“This cannot continue,” Lee said. “I say to our drivers, ‘People count on you to do your job so they can get to theirs.’”

The contract that Muni workers rejected would have given them a raise of more than 11 percent over two years. However, it also would have required them to cover a 7.5 percent pension payment currently paid by the transit agency, said Rose, the agency spokesman.

The contract would have increased operator pay to $32 an hour, making them the second highest paid transit workers in the country, Rose said.

Williams said other city workers were getting a better pension deal than Muni drivers.
“Our members are hard-working, and all we want is fairness,” Williams said.

Thursday morning, Friday night are worst times to drive in Los Angeles, report says


June 4, 2014

LOS ANGELES - A new report released today ranks Los Angeles as having the worst traffic in the nation.

The Tom Tom North American Congestion Index shows that Angelenos spend an average of 90 hours a year on congested roads and freeways.

The worst days to drive are on Thursday mornings and Friday evenings, according to the report by the GPS navigation company, which cites the best times times to drive, with the least amount of traffic, as Monday evenings and Friday mornings.

L.A. traffic increased 2 percent over last year, a five-year high, the report shows.

The other U.S. cities that made the top 10 list behind Los Angeles include San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle and San Jose.

Los Angeles ranked fourth out of 63 cities in all of the Americas, which includes Canada, the United States, Central America and South America. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ranked first, followed by Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

How to Make Mass Transit Financially Sustainable Once and for All

The seven-part case for operating public transportation as a public utility.

By David Levinson, June 5, 2014


The words "transit" and "crisis" have been associated in the American lexicon for nearly 60 years. It is time to recognize this as a chronic condition rather than a temporary event. Current strategies have not placed transit on a financially sustainable path.

From the mid-19th century through the mid-20th, transit was privately operated, usually running on public rights-of-way (which companies often were obligated to maintain), charging a government-regulated fare. This model was hugely profitable for decades, until it wasn't.

The causes for transit's decline are many, but rising incomes, suburbanization, and of course a much faster competitor in the automobile and highway system are among them. At that point, which ran from the 1930s to the 1960s depending on where you were in the United States, the private sector abandoned transit and the public sector took over.

Over the past half century, U.S. transit under public ownership has seen an enormous and growing per passenger subsidy. The debate over the merits of subsidy has become partisan.

Transit is essential to those who use it on a daily basis. But so are many other goods and services that have much lighter public involvement, ranging from food production and distribution to electricity and natural gas. Aside from the inability of transit operators to make money under the regulatory regime of 60 years ago, is there anything about transit that warrants public ownership? Let's consider who benefits from transit:
  • Foremost are the riders. Currently, on average riders directly pay about one-third of the operating costs through fares, and none of the capital costs
  • Second are the employers of subsidized riders, who can pay lower salaries since those employees have some of their transportation costs covered. In some places, employers subsidize transit passes or local transit services for employees.
  • Third are some highway travelers who face less congestion the more other people use transit. The federal Highway Trust Fund, most of which comes from motor fuel taxes, dedicates 2.86 cents of the 18.3 cent federal gas tax (or 16 percent) to transit capital costs. Many states have similar transfers from highway users to transit systems.
  • Fourth is society as a whole, which has fewer pollution externalities if more people ride transit instead of driving alone in gasoline powered automobiles.
All of these beneficiaries pay something, but they do not pay in proportion to the benefit, because of the misperception that mass transit is a public good, like police or fire protection. In principle, a public good is something that people cannot be prevented from using, and that does not get worse the more people it serves. In reality, transit is more like a club good, since we charge users all the time. In fact, it would be technically fairly easy to charge users more.

The term "transit crisis" has surged in use since the mid-20th century.
The fear is that if users paid more, they would ride transit less. Undoubtedly in the short run, if nothing else changed, a fare hike would lead to a decrease in ridership. Yet many countries (including Canada) have higher transit fares (and higher costs for competing modes) along with higher transit ridership (and better service). With exchange rates and complicated fare structures, however, there is no perfectly fair comparison.

There is also the concern that transit is a merit good, so it is aimed at serving poor passengers who cannot pay the average cost of transit service. Overall, transit riders have lower than average incomes. Yet many routes (think: commuter rail and heavy rail systems) have passengers with higher than average incomes. If you want to help poor people, give them money; or, failing that, give or subsidize transit passes, rather than subsidizing the wealthy under guise of aiding the poor.

But the primary problem with transit operations funding is not that poor people are subsidized. Since the routes serving low-income travelers are often profitable (fares cover operating costs), it is that long-distance, inefficient suburban routes are very heavily subsidized by profitable or near-profitable urban routes. If the average farebox recovery is one-third, many routes are much higher and other routes are much lower. The lowest performing routes are typically in suburban districts, where transit dollars are spent as part of a political bargain to obtain some form of general revenue funding from suburban jurisdictions.
•       •       •       •       •
Like any other enterprise, transit should be successful and cover its costs. This is entirely feasible if we change the model of transit finance from a branch of government to a regulated public utility, as is done in much of Europe and Asia. A public utility provides a service, and in exchange, it is compensated for that service. The compensation comes from consumers (e.g. users, riders), and from the public for any unprofitable services that it wishes to maintain for other (e.g. political) reasons.

There are seven ways transit utilities could reverse the long decline the current governance model has provided.
  1. The transit utility can lower costs by competitive tendering for routes. Just as bus companies today don't manufacture their own vehicles, there is no economic requirement they run the buses themselves. The London model of bus franchises is instructive. Private firms bid to provide service on routes (and collect revenue) for a franchise period. If the route earns profits, they bid a positive amount. If the route loses money, they bid on how much subsidy is required for them to be willing to operate it. Transport for London monitors quality, collects fares (via the universal Oyster card), determines routes, and manages stops, stations, signage, and branding, so it appears as one unified system to riders. Bus ridership in London has risen significantly since competitive tendering.
  2. An independent transit utility can raise fares, with the approval of a public utilities commission, so that average farebox recovery approaches and eventually exceeds 100 percent. This should be accompanied by full cost pricing for competing transportation modes — in other words, higher gas taxes or road fares. Low-income users should get a direct subsidy from the public, not from the transit utility. This is akin to the universal service fund telephone utilities often offer.
  3. Transit utilities should require smart card use and encourage seasonal passes (perhaps subsidized by employers and universities as a benefit) to lower the marginal cost paid by transit users, reduce boarding times, establish a more stable revenue base, and increase ridership. This is much like unlimited minutes (or bandwidth) by your telecommunications provider.
  4. Each money-losing route should be cancelled or operated under contract by the transit utility in exchange for specific revenue from the jurisdiction that route serves. Transit organizations would at least break-even on the operation of the route. The "deficit" would shift from the transit utility to the public sector, which would have a clearer picture of the costs of its wants.
  5. Capital costs for new or rebuilt transit systems should be recovered from land value capture. Transit services create value they cannot fully capture themselves through the farebox (though they would capture more of this with higher fares). That value spills over to nearby land owners, whose property value increases due to the accessibility transit provides and thus the higher rents they can charge. The amount of value captured by the system signals whether the investment is worth making. If some of that value were captured, more revenue would be available to make investments. Transit utilities should have the authority to develop land at stops and stations, and to develop air rights over their tracks, and to contract with private developers to coordinate station locations. Local units of government desiring routes and stations should have the authority to implement local taxes to subsidize the transit utility for the cost of building the line. But the line should only be built if it can at least break even operationally. If the route cannot be funded from land value capture and farebox revenues, it should not be built.
  6. Utilities and transportation services can use private equity and bond markets to unlock value. If Uber is valued at $17 billion (or even one-tenth that), how much capital would a well-governed mass transit utility with actual users be able to raise?
  7.  Since transit benefits local areas, it should be primarily locally funded and managed. Federal funding for transit has distorted investment to be capital intensive — favoring ribbon-cuttings for politicians — while resulting in neglect for local operations. While the rational local transit organization will take advantage of federal largesse, there is no good reason for federal involvement. Over the next few transportation legislative cycles, it is likely that federal grant programs (funding) will be transformed into loans (financing). Mass transit utilities would be better adapted to this new environment.