To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Friday, July 18, 2014

Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment


By Angie Schmitt, July 18, 2014

 Contraflow bike lanes -- of bike lanes that are directed the opposite way of vehicle traffic, look to be on their way to the nation's leading traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

 Contraflow bike lanes could soon be included in an influential traffic engineering guide.

Buffered bike lanes have been used in some American cities for decades now, and an increasing number of cities are implementing contraflow bike lanes. But only just now are these street designs getting official recognition from powerful standard-setters inside the U.S. engineering establishment.

Bike lane markings in the intersection space may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware
Bike lane markings through intersections may soon be part of important engineering guidance.

Late last month, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gave its approval to 11 treatments, including these two bike lane configurations. Committee members also, as anticipated, approved bike boxes and bike signals, which had been considered “experimental,” as well as bike lane markings that continue through intersections.

This opens the way for these designs to be included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Without recognition in the MUTCD, engineers in many cities are reluctant to install these treatments. Official acceptance in the leading design manual would help make these treatments more widespread — and that will help make American streets safer for biking.

That’s still not a done deal. The committee approval is advisory, and the group’s recommendation will now be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for potential inclusion the the MUTCD. To get final approval, the new guidelines must undergo a rule-making period where they are reviewed by other engineering institutions that have historically been averse to change, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

San Francisco Sets Bond Vote for Aging Transit System


By Alison Vekshin, July 17, 2014

San Francisco lawmakers are asking voters to approve a $500 million bond measure as a population surge stoked by technology-industry growth strains the transit network in California’s fourth-largest city.

The general-obligation bonds would fund upgrades to reduce travel times in the 98-year-old system, plus traffic signals and bicycle paths as the city’s 837,442 population is projected to swell to 1 million by 2040. The 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed July 15 to send the plan to voters.

“It’s really about how we sustain our public transportation and bring it to the next decade and beyond, or else we’re not going to be able to accommodate the growing population,” said Supervisor Katy Tang, who sponsored the measure.

San Francisco’s bus and light-rail system is trying to keep up with the city’s transformation into a social-media industry hub as payroll tax breaks offered by Mayor Ed Lee lure employers such as Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and Yammer Inc. Last year, 21 pedestrians died from traffic-related collisions, the most since 24 deaths in 2007, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Aging Systems

The city and neighboring Alameda County, home to Berkeley and Oakland, are among communities across the U.S. seeking to bolster or replace aging mass-transit systems, roads and bridges. Speaking in May with New York’s aging and overburdened Tappan Zee Bridge in the background, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. risks its economic supremacy by neglecting to repair and upgrade its transportation system.

Investors in the $3.7 trillion municipal market have treated San Francisco securities as better than AAA debt, even though Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service grade it one step lower. Fitch Ratings ranks the city AA, its third-highest level.

San Francisco general obligations maturing in June 2020 changed hands July 15 at an average yield of 1.52 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s 0.16 percentage point less than benchmark munis.

City’s Appeal

San Francisco is an attractive investment because of its “strong economy, a very large and diverse tax base, which contribute to overall solid credit quality,” said Michael Johnson, managing partner at Gurtin Fixed Income Management LLC.

“Given where interest rates are right now, it’s definitely a good time” to borrow, said Johnson, whose Solana Beach, California-based firm manages $9.1 billion.

Sitting at the tip of a peninsula, the city is 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and equally wide. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area added 62,117 people in the year ending July 1, 2013, the ninth-largest increase in the U.S., according to Census data.

The number of technology jobs in San Francisco more than doubled to 53,319 in the fourth quarter, compared with 24,438 in the corresponding period four years earlier, according to data from real-estate brokerage CBRE Group Inc. (CBG) in San Francisco. The number of technology companies grew 41 percent to 2,012 in the fourth quarter from four years earlier.

Tech Shuttle

The Municipal Transportation Agency this week agreed to impose a $3.55 fee on private commuter shuttle buses to use the city’s bus stops starting Aug. 1. The fee is aimed at commuter buses that ferry employees of Google Inc. and other technology firms from the city to Silicon Valley.

Voters approved a $400 million earthquake safety bond measure in June, on the heels of a similar $412 million request in 2010. In 2008, voters agreed to let the city borrow $887 million to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

San Francisco has “more than enough capacity” to borrow, said Nadia Sesay, director of the city’s public-finance office.

The bonds would be sold in four issues from 2015 to 2019 and would have a maturity of 20 to 25 years, she said. The city uses an interest rate of 6 percent for illustration purposes, she said. Municipal yields are close to the lowest since the 1960s.

“We hope we’ll continue to be in this low interest-rate environment,” Sesay said.

Electoral Bar

The measure, the first to be placed on the ballot for the transit system since 1966, will require a two-thirds vote to pass when it goes before voters in November.

“The challenge is that it’s always difficult to get above two-thirds for funding measures,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning & Urban Research Association, a nonpartisan urban policy organization. “There’s always a certain segment of people who would just rather say no to any taxes on principle.”

The transit measure stems from a task force convened by Lee last year to study the city’s transportation needs. The city should invest $10 billion through 2030 in transportation as its population grows, according to a report from the group.

“We don’t have any major credit concerns with San Francisco right now,” said Karen Ribble, a senior director at Fitch in San Francisco. “The city’s debt levels are fine. Their economy is doing very well.”

Dodger Stadium Express: Metro Nightmare Or Gameday Savior?


By Paolo Uggetti and Matthew Tufts, July 17, 2014

 Rush hour traffic in L.A. is bad. But during a home Dodgers game it can become a nightmare. (Rose Trieu/Neon Tommy)

 Rush hour traffic in L.A. is bad. But during a home Dodgers game it can become a nightmare.

Los Angeles sports enthusiasts have long been labeled as fair-weather fans. Dodger Stadium is famous its crowds that arrive in the third inning and leave by the seventh—a phenomenon most frequently attributed to an attempt by fans to avoid rampant traffic congestion in the parking lots and freeways that connect Chavez Ravine with the rest of greater Los Angeles.

Public transportation in the city is under the microscope, as the best engineers in the country try to unravel L.A.’s traffic conundrum. As most city-wide negotiations regarding light rail and metro extensions continue to move at the rate of rush-hour traffic, the Los Angeles Dodgers teamed up with L.A. Metro to try to provide a quick, efficient public transportation answer to Dodger fans: the Dodger Stadium Express.
The Express service has bee
n in existence since 2010, yet traffic still seems just as heavy getting in and out of the game. It begged several questions: Is the Express any faster? Do people actually use the service?

We sent two writers to a Friday night Dodgers game. Both started at Union Station—one took the Express, the other drove. Here are their stories:

Dodger Stadium Express: Matthew Tufts

The best part about the Dodger Stadium Express? It's free with a ticket to the game. (Metro Library and Archive/CC Flickr)
The best part about the Dodger Stadium Express? It's free with a ticket to the game. 
I arrived at the station at 6:34 p.m. a little later than we expected to start, but traffic had been heavy through Downtown to Union Station.

By the time I had found my way to the Patsaouras Transit Plaza (the Express leaves from Bay 3), it was nearing 6:40. Lucky for me, one of the shuttles was already there and about halfway full.

The Express runs from Union Station to Dodger Stadium an hour and a half before game time through the second inning, and then for return service for 45 minutes following the end of the game. Shuttles are scheduled to leave every five to 10 minutes, but drivers will wait longer for larger crowds.

Climbing aboard, I was reminded of the initial draw of the Express: a ticket to the game counts as your fare. (No dealing with quarters or prepaying for a Metro card? Score one for the fans!)
Right after I hopped onboard, the bus began to fill up very quickly. It’s just a regular-sized Metro bus; expect it to be packed to capacity, similar to most of the city’s buses.

When Paula and Mike vacation in L.A., they find alternatives to driving in the city. (Matthew Tufts/Neon Tommy)
When Paula and Mike vacation in L.A., they find alternatives to driving in the city. 
The first group of fans I met were an elderly couple, Paula and Mike Adkins. I was surprised to learn they were not from the area, nor were they even from California. They lived in Iowa and were on a vacation to Los Angeles. This was their second-ever Dodger game, and I was even more surprised to discover that they took the Express to the last one.

Since many diehard fans I know have never even heard of the Express, it seemed odd that two tourists had come across it and chosen to take advantage of the ride over a cab or a rental car. However, I soon learned that the couple frequently use public transportation on their visits to Los Angeles. I immediately apologized to them for the poor quality system and lack of rail and subways, but was taken aback by their response.

“We take public transportation every time we come here, and I think it’s fine,” said Paula. “Everyone complains here, but we don’t have anything where we come from in Iowa.”

By this time, the bus was packed with people standing in the aisle. We left at 6:44, quickly taking advantage of bus-only lanes by Union Station and restricted shuttle lanes by the stadium.

The crowd on the Express was about as diverse as the city of Los Angeles. People of all ages, ethnicities and appearances were packed together, with Dodger blue the only constant in the sea of people.

Zach and Michelle Roberts prefer the Express' stress-free travel. (Matthew Tufts/Neon Tommy)
Zach and Michelle Roberts prefer the Express' stress-free travel. 
Michelle and Zach Roberts, a young couple from Long Beach shared a seat by the door. Both were decked out in Dodgers gear and spoke animatedly about the team.

Zach is a lifetime Dodger fan from Sacramento while Michelle, a recent University of Southern California grad originally from Arizona, says she was converted by her husband. The pair used to attend between 15 and 20 games a year, but have seen that number decline this year.

The commute from Long Beach to L.A. is so routine for the two, they can usually make it to the city in 30 minutes if they navigate well, according to Michelle. However, once they arrive in L.A., they say they it’s about a 50/50 split between finishing the drive to Dodger Stadium and parking at Union Station. (Note: Parking costs six dollars at Union Station for the duration of the game.)

“Before there actually was an express lane, [riding the Express] was a little bit of a hassle,” said Zach. “We’d decide once we were up here whether we wanted to waste time on the Express. But now that they have the actual, coned-off express lane for the buses, I’d say we prefer this.”

Looking out the windows, I could see his point. We were moving much quicker than the surrounding traffic, racing by in a lane only used by shuttles to the stadium. Just looking at the line of cars we were passing seemed to give me anxiety.

“It’s a little bit cheaper, no parking there and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of going through traffic there, said Zach. “So there’s not that stress when you go to the game.”

We arrived at the stadium at 6:54 p.m., a mere 10 minutes after we had departed. The shuttle drove around to the field level gate by right field and the crowd poured out. By 6:56, I was in line with my ticket and could hear the National Anthem reverberating throughout the ballpark. I was in downtown 25 minutes before the game was slated to begin and I had not even missed the opening pitch. Seemed like the Express was the move to make.

Driving: Paolo Uggetti

Expect to encounter heavy traffic from downtown all the way to the Stadium on game days. (Paolo Uggetti/Neon Tommy)
Expect to encounter heavy traffic from downtown all the way to the Stadium on game days.
I think I speak for all of us when I say that if there is one bad thing about living in L.A., it is certainly the traffic. Especially rush hour traffic, and even more so on Dodgers game days.
When you factor in that Dodgers games are regularly scheduled for 7:10 p.m., traveling to Dodger Stadium by car can be quite the hassle.

I got a first-hand look at that experience when I drove from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium on a Friday night for a game against the San Diego Padres.

Armed with my trusty Toyota Corolla, I left Union Station at exactly 6:34 p.m. I headed northbound on the 101 Freeway, where traffic was already starting to bottle up. Simply entering the freeway was a struggle and it quickly delayed my trip.

Soon thereafter, I had to find the lane that merged to the 110 northbound Pasadena Freeway that would take me to the stadium. This caused a few problems as traffic conditions made it difficult to shift lanes, lengthening my trip and stressing me out a bit. Getting into an accident in this mass of traffic would have been less than ideal.

After finally merging onto the 110 North, I found traffic to be equally bad and backed up. Thankfully, the Stadium Way exit was one of the first to come up once on the freeway. The freeway, especially the outer left lanes, had relatively cleared up at that point, but now it was the exit itself that inherited all the traffic as everyone was headed for the game.

The traffic doesn't stop when you exit the freeway for Dodger Stadium. (Paolo Uggetti/NeonTommy)
The traffic doesn't stop when you exit the freeway for Dodger Stadium.
The exit traffic was stressful on its own, as drivers hurriedly tried to find the fastest way possible to arrive at Chavez Ravine in time for the game. The orderly traffic attendants and directors alongside the stadium helped keep everyone in line, but limiting cars to one or two lanes may have also contributed to the hectic traffic that usually surrounds the Dodgers’ games.

Finally, after climbing a congested hill that stalled for about five minutes, I merged into yet another line to purchase parking and finally enter the lot. I entered through the south side by Gate A after purchasing a $15 parking ticket. At that point, I simply wanted to get to my parking spot, but it still took an extra five minutes to be directed through pedestrian traffic and into the actual lot on the far west side of Dodger Stadium.

I finally parked my car at 7:05 p.m. A two and a half mile stretch from Union Station to Dodger Stadium took me a grand total of 31 minutes to navigate.

It was quite hectic and stressful, but certainly an experience. Traveling anywhere from downtown L.A. at that particular hour would likely be no different, but spending 31 minutes in highly congested traffic to travel less than three miles to Dodger Stadium seemed like an unnecessary hassle.

Opinion: Are Alhambra leaders abusing their power and overdeveloping the city?


By Michael Lawrence and Eric Sunada, July 16, 2014

 Plaza on Main and Third streets | Photos by Matt Siriouthay
Plaza on Main and Third streets

There is no question Alhambra is growing. High-density residential and commercial developments are breaking ground around Alhambra: the Zen Terrace on Olive and Commonwealth, Plaza on Main at Fourth and Main, and Casita de Zen at Third and Main, to name a few. Yet is this “smart growth"? We don’t think so.

A planning tool little known to residents has created the loophole to enable many new developments to far exceed density recommendations in the city's zoning ordinance. All California cities are required to have a General Plan for development that outlines sound planning. Alhambra’s has policy guidelines for open space, parking, zoning regulations, and density. Unfortunately, in the last few years we have seen a disturbing trend: City leadership has been circumventing the General Plan to further irresponsible residential and commercial development projects by using Specific Plans — detailed land-use and development plans for individual projects in a defined area within the city.

Casita de Zen on 3rd and MainCasita de Zen on Third and Main 
While the city is technically not breaking the law, they are abusing policies by not using the Specific Plan in the way the state intended. According to state law, Specific Plans must be consistent with the General Plan. Specific Plans are created by city staff and developers and approved by City Council after recommendations from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission. Properly used, the Specific Plan is a tool for cities to develop a community and bridge the gap between bland, congested projects and livable, historical neighborhoods. A city could use a Specific Plan to specify architectural design features for a set of commercial developments that complement the city’s history, or to outline open-space requirements and sustainable landscaping features.

An example of a properly used Specific Plan is the 1991 Sante Fe Specific Plan Area (SFSPA), the blueprint for what is now The Alhambra on Mission Road and Fremont Avenue. THE SFSPA specified that the five property owners were to create “a campus-like design motif” using brick pathways and brick buildings in a Classic Georgian design. The plan required that new buildings and structures be linked to existing ones with similar architecture, and it called for landscaped open areas to connect the various areas of the campus. The SFSPA is an example of a Specific Plan that is more in-line with what the state intended: giving a cohesive vision for development of a reasonably large area.

Unfortunately, in many recent cases Alhambra has not used the Specific Plan as a bridge between the General Plan’s outlines for thriving communities and individual developments (see Table 2). Developments like Alhambra Place, Pacific Plaza, Casita de Zen, Main Street Collection, and the Front Porch project in the Midwick Tract have Specific Plans that do not reflect the ideas of the General Plan and are grossly out of alignment with the idea of sound area planning. The city's over-stressed infrastructure, lack of open space, and lack of affordable units represents an irresponsible use of the Specific Plan tool.

The city has been enabling developers of Alhambra’s downtown area, already zoned for high-density development, to further increase density. Specific Plans have been used to build units at a rate more than double what is allowed elsewhere in the city (see Table 1). Alhambra's Central Business District, the area around Garfield Avenue and Main Street, allows for mixed-use developments to have 43 unites/acre, which is already higher than the 24 units/acre allowed for lots less than 20,000 square feet and 30 units/acre for larger lots zoned elsewhere in the city. But Specific Plans have exceeded even this. For example, on Main Street they have allowed up to 80 units per acre for Casita de Zen.

Homes on Carlos Street set to be demolished in the Midwick Specific PlanHomes on Carlos Street set to be demolished in the Midwick Specific Plan. 
The city has also used Specific Plans to quietly rezone areas to fit developers’ needs. In the gated community development in Midwick Tract, developer City Ventures’ Specific Plan calls for rezoning a mixed-density street to high-density. General rezoning has wide implications and requires the city to notify all those affected prior to public hearings. Specific Plans, however, are more geographically focused and require only those living within 300 feet of the development to be notified, a much smaller group of residents and stakeholders. The Specific Plan allows the city to make these changes quietly without input from a wide group of residents who may not want another high-density development in their city. 

More troubling is the use of Specific Plans in other projects to reduce parking and open space requirements, which then creates a precedent for ongoing developments. In the staff analysis for the Alhambra Place Specific Plan, for example, reduced parking is compared to the Alhambra Pacific Plaza development that was approved at less than the required two spaces per unit. Staff use this as justification to continue this practice.  

Table 1.  General Plan zoning ordinance
General Plan Zoning Districts
Maximum Density
R-1, Single Family Residential
5 units/acre

R-2, Limited Multiple Family Residential
12 units/acre

R-3, Multiple Family Residential for lot sizes < 20,000 ft2
24 units/acre

R-3, Multiple Family Residential for lot sizes > 20,000 ft2
30 units/acre

CPD, Commercial Planned Development
30 units/acre
Generally applies to the lots on the north and south side of Main St.
CBD, Central Business District
43 units/acre
Overlay on the CPD bordered by 3rd St. on the west, by Almansor on the east, by Elgin St. on the north, and by Bay State St. on the south.

Table 2. Recent development densities permitted under a Specific Plan.   General Plan zoning restrictions are shown for comparison.
Specific Plans
Density permitted per the Specific Plan
Density restrictions per the Zoning Ordinance
Alhambra Place (old Mervyn's center)
65 units/acre
43 units/acre due to CBD re-zoning
Based on 260 units on a 2.924 acre residential building and its 1.085 acre parking structure
Fifth and Main (old library site)
41 units/acre
30 units/acre

Casita de Zen (NE corner of Third and Main)
80 units/acre
43 unit/acre due to CBD re-zoning
76 units/acre is what is being built.  The Specific Plan allowed for up to 80 units/acre.
Alhambra Pacific Plaza (old Super A market site)
66 units/acre
30 units/acre

Alhambra Walk (south side of Bay State St, east of Garfield, and north of Commonwealth)
48 units/acre
30 units/acre

Many residents including ourselves have expressed their frustration with the large-scale developments to City Council, but negative input from the residents is generally answered by “We are mandated by the state to do this." This is not accurate. Although the state requires the city to incorporate future housing needs in their housing elements and sets numbers of units the city should build each year, the state cannot mandate building, and has no say in the requirements set forth in the General Plan. Using the state housing requirements as an excuse to produce Specific Plans with reduced requirements is disingenuous. And to add insult to injury, the city isn’t addressing the affordable housing needs that are at the root of the state requirement.

Using the Specific Plan to bypass the General Plan results in uncoordinated efforts that seek short-term gains. The resulting hodgepodge, built without proper attention to residents and public infrastructure, means residents will suffer traffic congestion and live in communities that are not aesthetically appealing. Open space goes by the wayside for retail establishments du jour.

Park View Place at 200 North Chapel Avenue.Park View Place at 200 North Chapel

Quality growth includes public open space, provisions promoting walking and biking, inclusive housing stock, and sustainable businesses that offer valuable goods and services while paying livable wages. It should be based on a plan that is beneficial to all Alhambrans. Elected city officials, who swear to serve residents, are ignoring their constituents’ needs and catering to developers’ economic interests.

Alhambra city government must address the concerns of the residents by adhering to the General Plan and using the Specific Plan to enhance the quality of life for all Alhambrans.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Sunada is running for City Council, and Michael Lawrence is his campaign manager. They are also longtime Community Contributors to Alhambra Source. Alhambra Source opinion pieces do not represent the views or opinions of the editorial staff. Alhambra Source does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to share their opinions.

The Latest on LAX-Metro Connector: Progress, Consensus, Work to be Done


By Ken Alpern, July 18, 2014


GETTING THERE FROM HERE-As mentioned in my last CityWatch piece, the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee met and heard from both LA World Airports and Metro earlier this week, and while there is a great deal of work to be done there is also a great deal of progress and developing consensus, to boot. 
As always, the committee (comprised of grassroots leaders throughout the Westside) had an extraordinary amount of good questions and input, and they continue to impress and teach me about perspectives I would otherwise not have been aware of.  There was some Westchester representation, including my new co-chair Matthew Hetz, a Westchester resident, a vocal transit activist and regular transit user. 

Here are a few key take-home points (not all--just some--of them, because this is such a big topic): 

1)    The presentation was a single one that was delivered in two parts--LA World Airports (LAWA) and Metro are really on the same page, or at least are working mightily and historically to get to that same page--and the era where Metro and LA World Airports were rivals appears to be OVER.   
Unfortunately, both the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration must also sign off on any joint project. 

2) There will be some who are troubled by, and who might never agree with, the idea that both a Century/Aviation station and a 96th/Aviation station for the future Metro Crenshaw/LAX is necessary. Suffice it to say that this is an excellent idea that embraces many of the fundamentals that those of us who've wanted a "Green Line to LAX" have fought for:

First, this second station accommodates LA World Airports' plans to develop a Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC) as well as an Automated People Mover that didn't back up against local hotels (who did NOT want the People Mover so close, but which will build walkways towards the People Mover for a connection).  Metro really reached out to LAWA, particularly since the Crenshaw/Metro Line was already approved. 

Second, the need for "redundancy" is critical for both safety/security reasons as well as the fact that the two stations do different things.  Not everyone who works around LAX wants or needs to go to the Central Terminal Area (CTA), because the Century Blvd. Corridor is its own destination and jobs center.  Yes, there is already a contractor and agreement in place for a Century/Aviation station, but both stations would always have been needed. 

Third, now we have not one but two intermodal transportation centers--the aforementioned Metro 96th/Aviation station as well as the LAWA 96th/Airport Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF)--to connect buses, cars, trains, shuttles and vanpools from all directions of LA County.  How those two intermodal transportation centers are set up, and how they will accommodate commuters, is yet to be determined at this immediate time. 

(It should be remembered that the Metro Crenshaw Line, which will link the Expo Line at Exposition/Crenshaw to the Green Line at Aviation/Imperial does not help Westsiders and commuters from the San Fernando Valley as much as it does commuters from the regions to the east and south--hence the need for more than one intermodal transportation center.  Shall Westside commuters have to go east and double back west to the airport?) 

Fourth, and this probably flies under most of our mental radars, most commuters using these trains and buses to LAX are not those flying in and out of LAX--they are the tens of thousands of people who work at or near LAX.  The desire and time is now ripe to really develop along the Century Blvd./LAX corridor in both Los Angeles and adjacent Inglewood.  The ability to create jobs to service trade and tourism is huge, and more than one station is needed. 

3) The previous loop design for the Automated People Mover will be replaced with either a "scissors" or "spine" configuration, and moving walkways will be needed. 

For those of us familiar with the drive through the CTA, it's nice if one is going to Southwest Terminal but lousy if one is going to United (Terminals 7 and 8)...so why repeat that lopsided experience with the Automated People Mover?  Either a "scissors" configuration with half the trains going to the northern terminals and the other half going to the southern terminals will be chosen, or a central "spine" configuration in the middle of the loop will be chosen. 

Signage and the need for moving walkways (automated horizontal belts that allow a person to "walk faster") is needed for both the disabled and those with luggage to get to their final destination/terminal, and were strongly advocated for at the meeting. 

It was suggested by Marc Saltzberg of Venice that future motions of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee include choosing between the aforementioned "scissors" or "spine" configurations of the Automated People Mover, as well requiring all vans,shuttles and buses to drop off and pick up riders at the intermodal transportation centers at 96th/Airport (LAWA) and 96th/Aviation (Metro).  The committee agreed, and will address these issues soon.

The LAX Northside development was also raised for discussion by Kent Strumpell of Westchester, in that there was insufficient transit access to this project--support for intermodal transportation options to both this project and to any future configured LAX was voted on and passed, but the two-station option for the Metro Crenshaw Line still raised significant concerns and doubts among those attending. 

And support for a future north-south rail transit line linking the San Fernando Valley, the Westside and LAX remains as strong as ever, if the last CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee meeting is any indication. 

In short, there is amazing progress and consensus between LAWA and Metro, and it might now behoove the grassroots and citizenry to "catch up" with the government--after decades of watching the government need to "catch up" with popular support for a Metro Rail/LAX connection.  A final plan to be approved for the People Mover by LAWA is sought for by the end of this year, which is a pace that is historically breathtaking. 

So the work remains--for the average LA County resident as well as for transportation planners--but there is plenty of reason for optimism that the long overdue "train to the plane" will become a reality...and sooner than one might have believed after a past era of non-responsive governmental officials.  A big thanks goes out to those doing the work to make this happen, and it's hoped that the rest of us will follow their lead.

Tough audit sparks reforms


Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. County Supervisor, Third District, July 17, 2014


 A sheriff's deputy keeps an eye on goings-on at a Blue Line platform last fall.

A hard-hitting new audit says the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has failed to live up to its multimillion dollar contract to police the Metro system, while the transit agency itself has done a poor job of monitoring the sheriff’s performance.

The audit was commissioned by Metro’s Board of Directors last year and performed by the firm Bazilio Cobb Associates, with a team including members of the Bratton Group, LLC. The May 27 report faulted the sheriff on a number of fronts, including lack of a community-policing plan for the nation’s third-largest bus and rail system, perennial staff vacancies, tardy responses to citizen complaints and inadequate records to support its billings.

Overall, the audit determined that both the Sheriff’s Department and Metro had significant improvements to make.

“We found that Metro needs to substantially strengthen and enhance its oversight of LASD contract performance,” it said. “We found LASD has not met many of the targets for performance metrics, including crime reduction, continuity of staff, and fare enforcement saturation and activity rates.”

The audit was presented to Metro’s System Safety and Operations Committee on Thursday. CEO Art Leahy told the panel that new management at the sheriff’s department now has “an intense focus on delivering the goods here. There’s no finger-pointing, there’s no excuses. They can do better and Metro can do better.”

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Michael Claus, while disagreeing with a few of the report’s conclusions, said most of its 50 findings were on target.

“The bottom line is: we didn’t do what we should have done,” Claus said in an interview. “No one likes to be told they’re not doing a good job, but they were right in a lot of areas.”

Claus, who became Metro’s head of security in January, said reforms already are underway. Those include upgrading the Transit Services Bureau into a full-fledged sheriff’s division with its own chief, to whom Claus now reports. That move, effective July 1, will give structure to the team and enable it to advocate more effectively for staff resources, Claus said. It also may be a morale-booster for deputies assigned to the transit beat, which the audit said has been considered undesirable or even punitive by some within the department.

“By making it its own division, probably 20 people have removed their transfer requests,” Claus said.
The audit comes as the sheriff’s Metro contract—by far the department’s largest—is up for renewal. The new contract will likely be worth more than $400 million over five years, the report said. The department currently is working under a $42 million six-month contract extension that expires on Dec. 31.

The audit covered five years beginning July 1, 2009 and found lots of room for improvement. Among its findings:
  • Critical information—such as up-to-date blueprints and maps of station layouts—needed in the event of an attack on Metro’s transit system has not been shared with key tactical response units within the sheriff’s department. (Claus, a former SWAT officer and commander, said an effort to provide up-to-date, digitized information is underway, but insisted that the sheriff’s units in question already are familiar with Metro facilities.)
  • The transit security operation has operated with high levels of vacancies and too often sends in substitute staff without the necessary transit expertise.
  • The department has double-billed for some supervisors’ time; billed Metro at the full rate even when managerial, supervisorial and support positions went vacant; failed to provide enough backup documentation of time being worked; and in fiscal 2011 submitted bills of $59,368 above the maximum amount allowed under the contract.
  • Customer complaints against deputies often are not processed on time, and deputies with multiple complaints against them usually aren’t routed into the department’s “performance mentoring program.” (Claus said a backlog stretching to 2010 has now been eliminated.)
  • Mobile phone validators used by deputies to check patrons’ TAP cards are technologically inadequate and can’t be used for basic crime-fighting tasks, such as looking for outstanding warrants when people are stopped for fare checks. Better fare-validation devices are being developed, the audit said, but other issues involving checking TAP cards remain unresolved—notably the question of whether that duty should be handled primarily by Metro’s own security staff rather than sworn deputies.
  • Crime reporting and response time statistics are not being appropriately reported. (The department has switched, as recommended, to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting standards, Claus said. He said the department disagrees, however, with a recommended change in reporting response times that would start the clock running when a Metro operator receives a call—not when it reaches the sheriff’s department.)
The audit also said the sheriff’s transit security team was not engaged enough in making quality of life improvements in Metro facilities.

But, according to the sheriff’s department, that finding overlooks a notable recent success story.
“Deputies have made tremendous strides in cleaning up Union Station; examining and solving delicate homeless rights issues, solving quality of life issues, making the area a cleaner, hazard-free experience for patrons, etc.,” according to the official response to the audit from interim Sheriff John Scott. “More is to be done, but to say that great strides have not been obtained would simply not be reflective of the current status.”

As for Metro, the audit found that the agency has failed to set forth adequate contractual requirements for the sheriff’s department, and has been lax about keeping tabs on the requirements that are in place.

In a response to the audit, Duane Martin, the agency’s deputy executive officer for project management, wrote that his department is asking for more staff to provide better contract oversight. He said Metro also will seek to modify its existing contract to enable it to seek damages if the sheriff doesn’t live up to specified performance targets—including crime reduction and continuity of staffing—and will write that into the next contract as well.

Beyond the audit, Metro CEO Leahy said he also has ordered a peer review of his agency’s security services by the American Public Transportation Association. Those findings will be examined, along with the audit, by Metro’s board this fall.

There is debate about how big a role deputies should play in fare enforcement.