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, July 23, 2014

Urgent Call To Action: Metro Board Meeting, July 24, 2014

From Sylvia Plummer, July 23, 2014

Urgent Call To Action

Need people to attend the Metro Board Meeting and speak during Agenda Item #25

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Why?  Leland Dolley (Counsel for City of Alhambra) and Barbara Messina  are going to make a play at the Metro Board Meeting. 
They are making a request to restore the 710N Gap Closure Project to the Highway Program Map and Project List in the Draft Short Range Transportation Plan (SRTP) - Board Agenda Item #25
Isn't it clear that the 710 North is not a highway project?  It is a gap closure awaiting an EIR review.
We need people to attend the Metro Board meeting at 9:30 a.m at One Gateway Plaza (building adjacent to Union Station), Metro Board Room, 3rd floor.  
There is parking for $6 under Metro's Headquarters or take the Goldline and get off at  Union Station.
If you can attend, please be prepared to speak for one minute, telling the  Board  why they should not add the 710 North project to the Highway Program Map and Project List, after all, it is a gap closure awaiting an EIR review.   You must fill out a speaker card when you arrive at the  Board  Chambers (3rd floor), and the item number is 25.  

$1.5 million at center of internal EPA battle over Superfund contractor’s alleged overbilling


(Note that CH2M Hill is performing the EIR/EIS for the 710 North Study.)

By George Russell, July 23, 2014

Fifteen months after a report charged the Environmental Protection Agency with failing adequately to oversee Superfund cleanup efforts at some of the country’s most toxic waste dumps, the EPA’s internal watchdog and EPA management are battling over $1.5 million that the inspectors said in the probe was illegally overbilled between 2008 and 2012 by the clean-up contractor.

The EPA’s Inspector General Office wants EPA to get the money back. EPA management is balking, despite at least two “dispute resolution” meetings between the two sides in March and May.
Meantime, the contractor, a Colorado-based engineering and consulting behemoth named CH2M Hill, continues to operate under the disputed contract, which has a total potential value of more than $116 million before its final expiry in June 2016.

CH2M Hill’s total ongoing business with EPA amounts to ten times that amount: more than $1.16 billion through July 2014, according to EPA records.


Making the tug-of-war more piquant is the fact that CH2M Hill in March last year—only a month before publication of the disputed report-- paid $18.5 million to the Department of Justice to settle an overbilling fraud that allegedly  between 1999 and 2008 at another hyper-toxic cleanup site, the Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear site, home of the world’s first plutonium production reactor.

Under the agreement, CH2M Hill also had to consent to a corporate monitor for three years at the Hanford site, pay $500,000 for unspecified  “accountability measures” to prevent further billing fraud, and cooperate in continuing fraud investigations.
The two cases are otherwise unrelated. In the current EPA internal dispute, the major sticking-point issue is not whether CH2M Hill engaged in fraud—no such claims have been made-- but whether EPA itself  ignored  federal contracting rules in favor of its own internal regulations  in allowing the alleged double-billing circumstances to arise.

A number of questions sent by Fox News to CH2M Hill earlier this week regarding contract EPS90804 had not been answered before this story was published.

But there is also a broader issue involved:  how EPA, an agency that has recently threatened to impose crippling fines on a rancher for building a small cattle pond on his property, actually carries out its job, including its financial responsibilities, at some of the biggest and most expensive pollution sites in the country, and how much it takes the word of contracting firms like CH2M Hill for their efforts in the process.

In other words, “how do you know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing?” said one EPA official familiar with the case. “It’s a major issue.”

Just how major—not only in terms of money but of the potential exposure of humans and wildlife to dangerous chemicals and their byproducts as a result-- is underlined in carefully cloaked bureaucratic prose in the Inspector General’s report of the disputed contract.

It said there “may be an EPA-wide problem” in how the agency handles contracts like the one  known as EPS90804, a three-year, renewable document that was originally signed in 2008 by the chief administrator of EPA’s region 9, a huge swath of territory that includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, as well as various Pacific island territories and autonomous tribal areas in the south-west.


In the case of EPS90804, the aim was to clean up a variety of Superfund sites in the South-West and the Pacific through a cascade of separate “task orders” under the umbrella agreement, known in EPA parlance as a “remedial action contract,” or RAC. The contract was expected to expand over time to allow different sites to be added.

In 2008 the administrator was Wayne Nastri, a Bush Administration appointee. He was replaced in November 2009 by an Obama Administration selection: Jared Blumenfeld, previously director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment under Demoractic then-Mayor Willie Brown, once the longest-serving speaker of the California State Assembly. Blumenfled is an attorney who, according to his official biography, “has worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.”

According to the EPA website, region 9 staff currently comprise “a talented and diverse team of more than 800 scientists, engineers, inspectors, environmental specialists, analysts, lawyers and administrative staff working to protect human health and the environment across eight time zones.”

At the time of the Inspector General’s report, EPA had issued 64 task orders worth $97.8 million under the contract. The Inspector General’s staff looked at only 18 percent of them —but they covered nearly two-thirds of the total spending.

The results of that year-long examination in 2013 were sobering. Among the mostly California venues that the Inspector General’s staff examined were nearly $40 million worth of work at the Iron Mountain Mine near Redding, a noxious gold and silver mining locale since the Civil War and a designated Superfund site since 1983; the Frontier Fertilizer site near Davis, CA, where many pesticides were dumped; and a site formerly known as the B.F. Goodrich site near Rialto, where rocket-fuel propellants, among other things, were tested.

All of those highly dangerous sites are close to important groundwater and drinking water sources for local residents and beyond.

When it came to supervising the “remediation” work under EPS90804, however, the report charged, among other things, that EPA employees who were supposed to monitor the contract:

--ignored federal rules that they verify that personnel for the contractor have the qualifications necessary to execute the contract, thus increasing the “risk of the contractor substituting lesser-qualified staff while EPA pays the rate for fully qualified individuals;”

--in some cases relied on the contractor’s work plans rather than the official scope of work of the various projects to determine what was supposed to be done;

-- ended up not being billed for 46 of 229 individuals originally identified as “key staff”  in work plans, but got bills for 846 people—82 percent of the total—who were not identified in the plans;

--often didn’t take notes or otherwise keep track of changes in “deliverables” in meeting with the contractor, thus relying on the contractor’s records;

--also failed frequently to document the quality of any of the “deliverables” received, and in two cases offered no documentation at all;

--in some cases, weren’t familiar with the overall contract, or hadn’t read it.

EPS90804 is what the federal government calls a “time and materials” contract, also known as a “fixed rate indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity award term contract,”  meaning that contractors bill for hours worked—with no specified ceiling-- at specified rates along with the cost of materials (which can include subcontracts, according to rules cited by the Inspector General).

(On the EPA’s website, it is now listed more vaguely as an “indefinite quantity” arrangement.)
According to one knowledgeable official, such time and materials contracts are “pervasive” at EPA—where the full extent of  required pollution clean-ups may not be known for years, as various layers of contamination are uncovered.  The contracts are also highly expensive, open-ended, and provide “no incentive to the contractor for cost control or labor efficiency,” according to the Inspector General’s  original report.

They are a device that President Barack Obama himself has been trying to discourage since 2009, when he issued a memo ordering agencies to minimize the risk and maximize the value of government contracts. They were further restricted by Congress the same year. EPA itself has been trying to discourage time and materials contracts as a cost-saving measure.

But EPA still wasn’t trying all that hard, according to yet another Inspector General’s report, issued just a month before the examination of EPS90804.  Despite the headquarters order to cut back on high-cost contracts, “flexibility” allowed EPA’s ten regions to use them virtually at their discretion. “The regions’ resistance to change is well documented through the years,” the Inspector General sardonically noted in March, 2013.


The resistance is apparently still operative.

While agreeing with many changes suggested in the  report on EPS90804 for ensuring that employees take notes and use verification procedures, both region 9 administrator Blumenfeld and senior EPA managers declared that they didn’t think that verification of the credentials of a contractor’s employees, as one example, was necessary or required.

One top manager went further. If EPA has a policy direct that the agency review credentials of all those working on tasks, the report relates that he said, “the requirement needs to be changed.”

And on the issue of alleged overbilling—involving a federal rule that forbids giving contractors a “profit” on materials included in the contract, which the Inspector General’s office declared that EPS90804 specifically and inexplicably violated--the administrators were equally adamant in refusing to ask for the money back.

How that issue, at least, is decided will ultimately depend on one of EPA’s topmost management—whoever that may turn out to be. Under dispute resolution procedures, after a “final” fruitless meeting held on May 29, the issue went to EPA’s Deputy Administrator, Robert Perciasepe, for a final decision.

Perciasepe was supposed to make the decision by July 15. This week, however, he ha announced that he will step down from his job next month.

According to an official in the Inspector General’s office, EPA has now asked for a delay in the final decision on EPS90804’s costly overbilling issue until August 15.

7 Innovations To Make L.A. Metro Better


By Kevin Cheberenchick, July 22, 2014

USA, California, Los Angeles, Woman sending text messages on subway station

For any public transportation system to thrive, safety, speed, affordability and convenience must be optimized. These reasons are why buses are inevitably doomed to fail. Like private cars, public buses will also get stuck in traffic, will be limited by increasing gasoline prices and will be susceptible to motor vehicle accidents.

These problems, however, do not affect a metro rail line. The Los Angeles Metro Rail will never be susceptible to gasoline prices, are much safer than cars and cannot get stuck in traffic. While a rail system has some intrinsic advantages, the L.A. Metro system is lacking. But there are several technological and service innnovations that could make the L.A. Metro truly great, for example:

1. Stop Notification Lights

There are multiple things that the L.A. rail system currently offers, but does not do consistently well. One such example is their intercom system. It's a game of Russian roulette as to whether or not they will announce what station riders are at. There are two ways to fix this problem. First, fix the intercoms and make sure the rail employees announce the station or play the automated voice message every time. Second, implement LED lights on the metro line map to show which stop the train is at. The light will be lit when the train is stopped at the corresponding station. The new map lighting will additionally make the system friendly to the deaf and hearing-impaired.

2. RFID & NFC Pay Service

With radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communication (NFC), it is more convenient for people to be able to use their own credit card or cell phone as their pass onboard the metro rail. In New York, the Mass Trasit Authority (MTA) successfully tested a program allowing the use of MasterCard PayPass and Visa PayWave. Implementing a similar system in Los Angeles should be doable.

3. Cell Phone App Request Service

Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft destroy traditional taxis because the smartphone app-based companies know when and where a person needs transportation. This same logic can be applied to the metro system. When someone pays for a metro ride at a certain station, it should send a ping to the metro rail driver telling him or her to stop at that station. Then, via phone or through a display at the metro station, a rider should be able to inform the rail driver where he or she wants to go. This would be most effective during nighttime hours, when ridership is lower. It would also speed up service because trains would not have to stop at every station, stop free loaders because the metro could only be requested after you paid and would allow the metro to stay open later than its current 2:00 a.m. closing time.

4. Ramp Gates

A portion of subway-related deaths consists of suicides committed by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Ramp gates will prevent suicides - one of the top fifteen causes of death - and will also serve as a terrorism and crime deterrent. Los Angeles County has some of the country's highest train death rates, especially for suicides by train. New York's MTA has already expressed interest in starting a pilot program to install platform screen doors.

5. Underground Wi-Fi and 4G

On June 26, 2014 at 8:29PM, I was waiting for the Metro Red Line when someone tried to use the emergency box at the Hollywood/Highland station. When the person pressed the button, no one answered. This served as a realization to me and all other bystanders that the Metro Rail’s emergency system is dangerously lacking. For a moment, it made us feel unsafe.

In 2011,the MTA began to provide underground cellular phones with voice and data service and free Wi-Fi to passengers in New York City. Underground Wi-Fi and 4G can increase safety by allowing individuals to tweet, text and call in the event of an emergency. Additionally, it will allow people to be entertained by YouTube videos on their phones or respond to work emails during their daily commute.

6. Expansion to Airports, Colleges and Popular Destinations

The size of L.A. Metro is depressingly small, with a meager 80 stations compared to New York's 421. If the metro system cannot get you where you want to go, there is simply no reason to take it. Therefore, expanding the metro is vital to increasing its ridership and convenience. College students and tourists make up a large portion of the metro's potential ridership. Guaranteeing the expansion with the Regional Connector, Red Line to Burbank Airport, Gold Line Ontario Extension and Airport Metro Connector is necessary. Riders should also be able to eventually take the rail to UCLA, and eventually Disneyland.

7. More Secure Turnstiles

The previous improvements mentioned will cost money and one way to maximize revenue is to minimize freeloaders. Floor-to-ceiling paid turnstile entrance gates and floor-to-ceiling paid handicap entrances will prevent people from jumping over the current mid-level turnstiles and getting a free ride. Additionally, creating exit-only turnstile lanes will prevent freeloaders from squeezing through when others are leaving. Lastly, one of the reasons why the metro is so slow is that it stops so that police officers can check to make sure everyone paid for the ride. No one wants to take a public transportation system that is slower than driving in LA traffic and the metro rail is currently slower regardless of time or location of trip.

All of these improvements could make L.A. Metro exceptionally better. Expanding service will also increase ridership by reaching more consumers, and implementing safety and freeloader preventions will save money by reducing the number of paid security officers. Hopefully, one day, L.A. Metro Rail will be comparable to New York’s or London’s metro systems.

Downtown LA Could Get an 84-Station Bike Share System


By Neal Broverman, July 22, 2014





 Like them or not, Metro's new toll lanes on the 10 and 110 (aka ExpressLanes), are pulling in bank from all those solo commuters paying for the faster drive. Aside from maintaining the ExpressLanes, the agency uses much of the money for transportation improvements in a three-mile area surrounding the lanes and it now has $26 million to spend, Streetsblog reports. And Metro has some pretty exciting proposals in mind: a Dodger Stadium express bus from the South Bay, more express buses, and—the biggie—a Downtown bike share program and a Union Station cycling hub. Los Angeles had been working on a much-heralded citywide bike share program (something like New York's Citibikes) for years, but ended up having to drop the whole thing because of issues with advertising on the bike kiosks. The city is now looking at a regional bike plan that would include satellite cities like Santa Monica and West Hollywood, but meanwhile Metro is looking at getting a system up and running in the most sensible place: Downtown.

Here are all the details so far on the Downtown bike share:

· Initially 84 stations around Downtown, with the option to expand to other toll lane-adjacent areas like USC
· 840 bikes up for the taking
· The bike kiosks would be regularly maintained and a vehicle would redistribute bikes to stations that are low
· Metro is also exploring a regionwide bike share, but officials aren't sure yet if the Downtown system will be part of it or will operated as a separate endeavor
· Construction would start next year
Details on the Union Station bike hub:
· It would be a $1.2-million facility
· It'd offer secured access bike parking, with 24-hour access
· It'd offer bike rentals
· It would have a retail sales center with accessories
· Staff would be on hand to fix busted bikes
· Construction is tentatively set for fall 2015 with an opening the following year
· Metro officials are not yet sure where in Union Station the hub would be located

The Forgotten History of L.A.'s Failed Freeway Revolt

The story of Boyle Heights reminds us that urban highway teardowns don't always end in victory.


By Eric Jaffe, July23, 2014


Urbanists love to celebrate the victorious campaigns that have been waged against city highways over the years. From the successful crusades against the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York and Inner Belt in Boston and Cambridge decades ago, to those against the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and Park East Freeway in Milwaukee more recently—the glory gets told and retold, often to good purpose. As other cities consider similar efforts, the tales can both inspire and instruct.

But the history of urban highway revolt is far more checkered than this highlight reel suggests. As UCLA historian Eric Avila reminds us, in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban History, plenty of anti-freeway crusades have failed over the years, leaving residents to live in the shadows of the roads they never wanted. Such stories are often "invisible" to us, he writes, because the people living in these areas too often lack a political or mainstream cultural voice:
What we don't know, however, is the story of the losers, the urban men and women who fought the freeway, unsuccessfully, on the conventional terms of political struggle, who weren't able to pack up and move on, and who channeled expressive cultural traditions to register their grievances against the presence of unwanted infrastructure.
Avila focuses on the diverging fates of Beverly Hills and Boyle Heights in metro Los Angeles. Armed with all the studies and consulting reports its wealth could amass, Beverly Hills defeated a highway project in 1975 that would have run through its center. With no such resources, the heavily Hispanic area of Boyle Heights watched six freeways slice through the neighborhood over the years, including two massive interchanges less than two miles apart.

Despite protests from locals, six major highways cut through Boyle Heights. (Via Google Maps)
That's not to say Boyle Heights residents didn't protest the plans. As early as 1957, outspoken locals challenged the freeways they saw as set to "butcher our town." But many residents with means fled to the suburbs instead of staying to fight. And poorer residents accepted relocation assistance with a reluctance that highway officials later misinterpreted as endorsement—even suggesting that these people honorably decided "that they should not stand in the way of progress."

Avila writes:
There were no dramatic standoffs with bulldozers and sheriffs, no storming of public hearings with gas masks and megaphones, no congregations of angry housewives against the work of uber-planners like Robert Moses, and no national outcry about the destruction of historic monuments and landscapes. L.A.’s version of the freeway revolt utterly lacked such drama: no surprise in the fact that a neighborhood in the throes of racial succession succumbed to the Interstate juggernaut, and no surprise that Beverly Hills did not.
Over the years, local artists have portrayed the frustration that Boyle Heights residents still feel toward the L.A. freeways that crisscross their neighborhood. These aesthetic protests—or "weapons of the weak," as Avila calls them—lack the coordinated power of more successful highway revolts. But if nothing else they document a persistent social dismay and serve as a cautionary tale against the "spatial injustice" of so many urban transportation projects.

Avila concludes:
Such awareness cannot undo the damage that has been done, but it can help to end the sustained program of isolating and ignoring the spaces of racial poverty in urban America.
What the history of Boyle Heights reminds us, above all, is that just because a highway ended up in part of a city doesn't mean that part of the city wants it there. If that's a bit obvious in hindsight, it's also a bit overlooked by the new push for urban highway removal—to that movement's own detriment. The effort might have even more support than it realizes.