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

Monday, June 9, 2014

More lawsuits are a foregone conclusion for California high-speed rail


By Ralph Vartabedian, June 8, 2014

California high-speed rail

 As state officials seek to begin construction of the $68-billion high-speed rail project, spending and engineering conditions from 2008's Proposition 1A are creating a fertile breeding ground for lawsuits over the meaning of the language voters endorsed in the ballot proposition.

When California voters approved $9 billion in funding for a bullet train in 2008, the ballot measure included the strictest engineering and spending controls ever placed on a major state project.

Voters were told that the high-speed trains would hit 220 mph, get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes, operate without subsidies and obtain funding and environmental clearances for entire operating segments before construction.

The idea was to protect taxpayers from an abandoned project or one that would require indefinite taxpayer support.

Now, as state officials seek to begin construction on the $68-billion project, those conditions have become a fertile breeding ground for lawsuits over the meaning of the language voters endorsed in the ballot proposition.

One key case hinging on these issues is working its way through state appellate court after a Sacramento judge ruled in November that the high-speed rail agency had failed to comply with 2008's Proposition 1A. The decision, state attorneys wrote in their appeal, could be "catastrophic" for the project.

Dan Richard, chairman of the high-speed rail authority, said the state would deliver a system that meets all legal requirements of the ballot measure.

"We are not trying to parse words and hide behind legal technicalities," he said.

But critics and opponents, including some key players from the project's past, say the rail authority is trying to circumvent the basic intent of the protections because the existing plan for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line can't meet them.

The unusual specificity of Proposition 1A has been cited by bullet train promoters and critics to bolster their positions. And both sides have put the language and procedures set out in an 8,000-word piece of legislation underlying the ballot measure under an interpretive microscope. One example: Does a requirement to "design" the train so it can travel from L.A. to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes mean the state has to provide such service?

When the restrictions were written, they were considered unprecedented.

"This bond issue was extraordinary," said Quentin Kopp, a former state senator, state court judge and former chairman of the high-speed rail authority, when the restrictions were written. "I can't recall any general obligation bond issue that incorporated legal provisions to the extent this one does."

In Kopp's view, the state legislation and subsequent ballot measure were a conscious effort by the Legislature to place binding safeguards on the biggest infrastructure project in California history.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), a former state senator who wrote many of the restrictions, said: "We didn't put them in as guidelines.... It was really clear what we wanted."

But high-speed rail supporters say the conditions were never intended to be a legal straitjacket, allowing opponents to gum up the whole purpose of the bond measure: building a bullet train.

"The conditions were unnecessary and ill conceived," said Rod Diridon, another former chairman of the state's rail agency and now executive director of a San Jose State University transportation institute. The language in the law provides "guidelines, not hard and fast rules," Diridon said.

Richard Katz, a former authority board member and state legislator, agreed the conditions should not be taken too literally.

"People voted for the concept of high-speed rail," he said. "You have to view this in the larger context of whether the high-speed rail authority is substantially complying with the requirements."

The competing interpretations of the ballot measure have created something of a legal Olympiad, with the main court battle being waged by Central Valley farmers and Kings County.

In addition to the suits over the bond act, the project has been hit with multiple environmental lawsuits. On Thursday, Central Valley opponents filed suit to obtain a restraining order on the project, alleging errors in the authority's environmental impact statement for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section.

Two powerful potential opponents, Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway, also are standing in the wings. Both freight railroads have filed extensive objections to the bullet train plans, arguing that its construction could interfere with their operations and violate their property rights.

Last month, Union Pacific attorneys appeared before the appellate court and asked that any decision permitting the state to sell additional high-speed rail bonds not support the state's contention that it met the requirements of Proposition 1A.

At that hearing, the appellate court justices were reviewing two decisions by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny.

He ruled the state violated the law by failing to adopt a funding plan that had the necessary environmental clearances and identified all of the sources of money needed for the initial usable segment of the rail line from Merced to the San Fernando Valley.

Kenny told the rail authority to submit a new funding plan.

At the appellate court hearing, Deputy Atty. Gen. Ross Moody did not address whether the state has the money or the environmental clearances. Instead, he delved into the arcane language of Proposition 1A and the steps that must be taken before the state can actually spend money on the project.

Proposition 1A, Moody argued, requires two funding plans: an initial one intended for the Legislature to decide whether to appropriate funds, and a second version before the money can be spent on construction.

Moody said the courts have no authority to challenge the Legislature's decision on the first plan. If the opponents want to challenge the project, they must wait for the second funding plan, he said.

Stuart Flashman, an attorney for the plaintiff farmers and Kings County, argued that the first funding plan is crucial because that's where the state must show it has all environmental clearances needed for construction.

"The risk is you begin a system that cannot be completed," he told the three-member appellate panel.
A decision on the appeal is expected no later than this summer.

Another trial this year will examine whether the state is failing to comply with prohibitions on taxpayer-funded operating subsidies and requirements on the bullet train's end-to-end travel times.

The state rejects both of those allegations and points to projections saying the system will be highly profitable.

As with many issues, the travel time controversy is fraught with conflicting legal interpretations. In the official ballot pamphlet in 2008, proponents said riders would "travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 21/2 hours for about $50 a person."

But the language of the bond act says the system must be "designed to achieve" a trip time of 2 hours and 40 minutes between the cities.

So, will the state have regular service that meets those trip times? Or is the state required only to build a system able to provide such service?

Richard recently said the bullet train will be capable of making the trip in the required time, and that it is the intent of the state to provide such service. Actual operating schedules will be determined by a private company contracted to operate the system under the supervision of the state, he added.

Flashman maintains that with the current design plans, no train will be able to meet the 2-hour-40-minute requirement and such service will never be available to travelers.

The issue of trip times and whether the future system can operate without a subsidy could go to trial this year, part of a long line of expected litigation.

 "There are still a lot of fights to come," said attorney Michael Brady, who works with Flashman in representing Central Valley plaintiffs.

 Moody, the deputy state attorney general, said there ultimately could be as many as half a dozen suits stemming from issues in Proposition 1A.

"I think litigation is a foregone conclusion," he said in court.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, June 9, 2014

I can’t believe they’re really holding more meetings on the North Figueroa road diet project. Just do it already.
  • Monday - The City of Los Angles hosts a public environmental scoping meetings for the Coastal Transportation Corridor Specific Plan (CTCSP) and the West Los Angeles Transportation Improvement and Mitigation Specific Plan (WLA TIMP).  An EIR Notice of Preparation (NOP) is available for review here. Get more details on the meeting, here.
  • Wednesday – The Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meets to discuss a new way on ride share and receive an oral report on bike plan implementation. The meeting starts at 2 in City Hall. Read the agenda, here.
  • Thursday – Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s campaign to stop the previously approved North Figueroa Road Diet and bike lane project continues with another redundant public meeting. Will the Councilmember’s phone banking efforts payoff? Will he finally get a crowd of enough grumpy baby boomers to out number the armies of safe street advocates who show up to these meetings? Time will tell. Get the meeting details courtesy LACBC, here.
  • Saturday, Sunday – Those that are signed up for the L.A. River Ride can pick up their ride packets at bike shops located between Downtown Los Angeles and the Westside. Get more information on the packet pickup, here.
  • SAVE THE DATES: Later this week we’ll have more details on two July Events celebrating our 2013 Streetsie Award Winners. We’ll be taking a walk in Echo Park with Alissa and Jessica on the 12th, and partying in Santa Monica with Mayor Pam on the 27th. Details coming soon.

Caltrans proposes draft rules for home sales in 710 corridor


By Lauren Gold, June 8, 2014

 Houses on Columbia Street near Pasadena Avenue in South Pasadena. Many historic homes and buildings sit in the alternative routes for the 710 extension that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Authority proposed during its environmental study process.


 Historic Howard Longley Residence, 1005 Buena Vista Street, built by architects Greene & Greene in 1897. The historic home is owned by Caltrans.

LOS ANGELES >> Caltrans has identified 56 of the properties it owns in the 710 Freeway corridor that are ready to be sold immediately, officials said this week.

But first, the agency has to complete the tail end of a lengthy process to write up a set of rules to follow when selling the more than 500 homes, businesses and vacant lots it bought more than 50 years ago when the proposal for the 710 north extension was first born.

A draft of those proposed rules was released last week, beginning a 45-day comment period for tenants and other members of the public to express any concerns with the proposed process. The deadline for comments is July 14.

“The idea all along has been that we are not in the business of being property managers, so we want to return these properties as quickly as we can to the tax rolls,” Caltrans spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said. “We have to have a process in place in order to sell these in the proper and legal and fair manner, so that’s why we have to go through regulation development and approval.”

Caltrans has been holding on to the properties in Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena for five decades as the region continued to debate the 710 extension without resolution. Now, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Caltrans are in the midst of an environmental report on a new set of five options to close the gap between the freeway stubs in Pasadena and Alhambra.

 The five options being studied are: “no build,” light rail, bus, traffic management solutions and a freeway tunnel. The draft environmental report, which was originally set to be released this spring, has been delayed until February 2015 and the final project will be chosen in 2016.

A bill by State Sen. Carol Liu passed last year — following a state audit that slammed Caltrans for poor property management — required Caltrans to begin selling the homes it no longer needs to demolish for the freeway project. Wonder said the agency has selected 56 homes that are outside the footprint of any of the remaining five options that can be sold right away.

The second phase of sales will include properties that are within the area of the five options but will not need to be demolished, and the final phase of sales will follow the Metro board’s selection of the final project.

An environmental study is also underway, Wonder said, for the historical homes the agency owns, some of which are in the first phase of sales. The study should be completed next year, officials said.
The draft regulations for the home sales spell out the order in which tenants, cities or housing agencies are allowed to purchase the homes. Per state law, the homes must be offered first to the tenants who already live there; however, the tenants must fall within a certain income bracket to have the first shot at buying their home.

The affordablility aspect is an area that has many tenants concerned, and is an issue that many brought up at public meetings Caltrans held last year on the home sales.

“I believe that is extremely unjust,” tenant Libby Curiel said in a conference call with Caltrans last week that was posted on YouTube. “I’ve lived there for 12 years. I’ve invested so much time energy, money. Where does that leave someone like me?”

Chris Sutton, attorney for the Caltrans Tenants Association, said he’s also hesitant about a requirement that those who purchase the home at an affordable price will have to sign a 30-year contract with Caltrans that among other things prohibits them from selling it.

Also, he said, the tenants are ultimately just not ready to trust Caltrans staff to sell the homes in a fair, logical and transparent manner.

“The Caltrans staff in Los Angeles in the past has done things that were not in compliance with what Caltrans in Sacramento wants,” Sutton said. “The things that Caltrans has tried to pull and do is just bizarre and unexplainable in so many ways and that’s why we are concerned. We’ll just see what happens.” Caltrans plans to host public hearings on July 15 at California State University, Los Angeles, and July 17 at the Pasadena Convention Center. There is also an information hotline at 213-897-8184 and website at www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/business/710sales.

To submit comments, email Affordable_Sales_program@dot.ca.gov, fax them to 916-654-6378 or mail to Brent Green, ATTN: Affordable Sales Program, California Department of Transportation, 1120 N Street, MS 37, Sacramento, CA 95814.