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 25, 2014

Readers sound off over construction and development in Alhambra


July 24, 2014

Dozens of readers wrote in to Alhambra Source to answer the question posed by a July 17 article: Are Alhambra leaders abusing their power and overdeveloping the city?

Alhambra Source community contributor and Alhambra City Council candidate Eric Sunada, along with his campaign manager and fellow contributor Michael Lawrence, argue in their opinion piece that city leaders are using a planning tool called the Specific Plan to circumvent city guidelines for density, open space, parking, and zoning, allowing excessive commercial and residential development. Many readers agreed, saying that city staff does not consider residents' needs or quality of life when making development decisions. Other readers defended the city and new mixed-use developmlents throughout Alhambra, arguing that the city is adapting to less land availability and creating more jobs and walkable neighborhoods.

Read some of the responses below, check out the full discussion, and let us know what you think!

 Erick Uribe
  1. This is the most detailed article I've read on this issue. Thank you for taking the time to get this written. I feel much more informed and hope that other residents welcome this sort of dialogue.
  2. "A well written and thoroughly researched article written by knowledgeable authors that examines a complex issue directly impacting our quality of life.  This type of writing provides a public service by bringing topics such as this to the attention of the city’s residents, initiating a deeper discussion that might not otherwise occur." -Joe S.

  3. "This article is very MISLEADING in terms of ignoring other issues, painting high-density developments as (de-facto) ominous, and using one-sided appeals to chastise a city council (and staff) that have worked hard to give us the great city we have today...Smart growth doesn’t necessarily preclude high-density mixed-use projects. The key is design and the spatial arrangements of mixed-uses that promote walkability and sustainability – facets that help define smart growth. Second, while a city General Plan (GP) is indeed a policy document, a city ISN’T A DOCUMENT. A city is a settlement of living, breathing, and dynamic human beings. While a GP must preserve character and protect what communities value, it must also accommodate growth (it doesn't take a Cal-Tech Engineer to figure-out our population will most likely continue increasing). These plans span decades so Specific Plans (SP) help maintain the flexibility our city needs. You both chastise the city for 'abusing policies by not using the Specific Plans in the way the state intended. Specific Plans must be consistent with the General Plan.'...Taking into account the state’s INTENT and ongoing views of the environment, growth accommodation, and public health/safety, I don’t see Alhambra’s Specific Plans (that incorporate many of these facets) as so far-fetched as you would want us to believe." -John G.

  4. I live near main st and it's definitely starting to remind me a lot like old town Pasadena. I like the change!
  5. "Out with the old and in with the new. I love watching those old ugly buildings being torn down. This is going to be a place where people will want to live and spend money and of course will also pay taxes. Hey, I have not seen any job openings at the old Mervyns building lately, have you? That's because it needs to be torn down so something better goes in its place. This city needs jobs so that we can have a walkable community. I get so excited as a walk down Main St and see what's happening. SO many old eyesores are being torn down and will be replaced with the greatest invention I have seen in real estate. The mixed use building. There will be many people who will actually be living and working in the same building. All you traffic haters should celebrate that fact."-Joesph S.
  6. "'Out with the old and in with the new' is a philosophy Americans have endorsed for so long that we're drowning in our own garbage. And it's unwise to assume that new is always better than old, especially when you're talking about the faux Tuscan and other slap-dash monstrosities going up in Alhambra. And safe to assume these condo dwellers WILL have cars and use them to go beyond Main Street. Ironic that city council bemoans traffic congestion in Alhambra but approves one development after another to make traffic worse. Mr. Sunada, I like the way you think."-Linda

  7. The new development is positive but the City of Alhambra has such a "Jekyll and Hyde" mentality. On one hand its "build, build, build," and on the other its complain about traffic and congestion constantly with banners up and down Fremont. Where do they think all the traffic comes from? You can't blame all your woes on the big bad 710!
  8. "The over-development has increased the amount of vehicles traveling in & out Alahmbra. More residences, more parking spaces more cars. The Santa Fe development plan prosed multi-level office buildings with approx.6 multi-level parking structures to accommodate 6,500 parking spaces...With all this self inflicted out of control growth the City Council can no longer complain about all the traffic plaguing the city. The city Council uses this rationale to promote the 710 tunnel. The credibility of the Alhambra City Council is in question & highly suspect."-Joe C.
  9. There is already enough traffic going through the city on Fremont, Garfield, and Atlantic we don't need added traffic from over populating the city. Yes a couple building will add more life to the city but they have over done it. Alhambra used to be a nice quaint neighborhood now it's getting but and way overpopulated! Truly considering a move.
  10. "Are there parks, grocery and other stores that people can walk to? What is the average price of those condos? What is the average wage paid at the mixed-use establishments? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While I believe that a mixed-use building can be attractive, I don't find the ones on Main Street attractive or interesting. The County building on the SE corner of Atlantic and Main is the only one, in my opinion, that adds a bit of style to the area. There is nothing that makes our Main Street look different from equivalent developments in other parts of SoCal."-Greg
  11. Not a good idea. Alhambra has become too over crowded over the years.
  12. "This kind of cheap development is going to age terribly, and I hate how it all pushes up to the sidewalk. So many of these mixed-use developments on Main are going to be the eyesores we talk about in 10, 30 years. We want Alhambra to be a nice place to live now and in the future, but the only way to guarantee that is to plan our development carefully now."-April
  13. Great article. I find myself becoming more and more angry every time I drive down Main Street and see another new mixed-use development breaking ground. I think for me, the "tipping point" came when they knocked down the old library to build a condo. We are now taking away from public property so the city can make more money. This smells of greed and power, and I don't like it at all. Our "city leaders" want to make more money today by selling to these developers, but residents will suffer in the long run. I made a small list of cons below. Just my opinion. What do you think?The condos are ridiculously overpricedOver crowding Crazy bad trafficWith more people live so close to the high school, it can lead to security issues.Devalues the surrounding residential properties when noise and crime levels rise.
  14. "I am sorry to see a quaint and safe community like Alhambra bend to special interest groups and other lobby efforts to push through demolition of neighborhoods and high developments with less than needed parking. Tunnel or no tunnel--not providing enough parking will congest this area even more. I hope Alhambra will remain beautiful and fun and non congested as it always has...I love this community but if they destroy it with a huge tunnel, construction, more pollution and dense commercial building on Main Street without enough parking for visitors and residents it will be a disaster and very difficult to fix once the developments have been pushed through and approved without space/parking consideration."-Marlena M.

  15. "This simple answer is YES, the City of Alhambra is being overdeveloped. At Garfield & Bay State that whole block is supposed to be another monsterous housing project. There is always a lot of traffic between Mission and Garfield and with the increase of population in that area it will only get worse. Our schools are busting at the seams and the added population will continue to crowd our schools. And lastly, WATER is another issue. I sent council a letter about my concern about the increase in water usage. They seem to forget there is a drought. Our water supply is supplemented by two other sources, but that does not mean keep increasing the population in Alhambra. Water rates will go up, as the population keeps increasing."- Dawn
  16. Yes... Alhambra city council has sold its soul and sold out our community.
  17. "Very good article, thank you for posting. While mixed-use development sounds good in theory because it 'might' get people out of their cars, we can look at a concrete example that show it is currently counter-productive. Anyone driving through the heart of Glendale and the surrounding areas will soon figure out that there is too much development in the area. I am a resident of Alhambra and commute frequently to Glendale and I feel that this beautiful city I live in is headed in that direction when I see many new multi-story buildings going up fast. I do not know the solution and I am fully aware that development is inevitable, but our quality of life must be taken into account before approving and constructing these massive buildings."-William C.

  18. "Very interesting piece. I wasn't familiar with the the recent development before, but it doesn't sound good... SGV has been gentrifying rapidly these past few years. Less open space and increased traffic congestion are clear warning signs."-Lucy T.

Officials discuss motion seeking to improve Orange Line at media event in NoHo


By Steve Hymon, July 25, 2014

Three Metro Board Members and other elected officials, activists and business leaders held a media event on Friday morning at the NoHo Orange Line station to discuss the Board’s passage Thursday of a motion calling for feasibility studies of improving the Orange Line and potentially connecting it to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

A video with some nuggets from the media event is above. (See website for the video.)
 Sorry about the shaky camera — I left a key piece of my tripod at home.

I’ve had several people ask why is this an issue now and the answer is twofold:

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who represents Van Nuys and the surrounding area, wrote a bill reversing a 1991 bill that banned any kind of rail project on the old Southern Pacific rail corridor that became the Orange Line. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.
•With a potential Metro ballot measure on the horizon in 2016, officials and activists realized that could be an opportunity to fund such a project but that having some studies done would help this effort.

I can’t emphasize enough that the motion only asks Metro to study possible upgrades for the Orange Line. Despite what may be said, at this time no decisions have been made about any possible improvements, nor is such a project funded or in Metro’s long-range plan.

It’s important to note that the Board also on Thursday approved an amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directing Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to its long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying a future ballot measure. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds.

In other words, there is a pecking order in which transit projects are funded at Metro and at present, that order begins with the projects funded in part by Measure R.

There was also a separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian that was approved by the Board that directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. The point of emphasis here: a lot of planning needs to be done and funding needs to be secured for these BRT projects to happen.

Could the Orange Line be converted to a light rail line? That optimism is certainly expressed by some in the above video. And the short answer to the question is yes it’s possible, but but there are many rivers still to cross. A potential 2016 ballot measure could certainly be used to fund new transportation projects, but keep in mind there are still Measure R projects — including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor — that also need additional funding to get built.

All that said, it is refreshing to see people talking about improving something that is already by all accounts, a very busy and popular transit line (in the past two years, there have been several months in which there have been more than 30,000 boardings on the Orange Line). It may turn out that there are ways besides conversion-to-rail to speed up the Orange Line and add capacity. We’ll know more in September when Metro staff and the Board discuss the different types of studies that they could potentially undertake.

Caltrans will put toll lanes on 405 Freeway despite objections


By Paloma Esquivel, July 25, 2014

405 Freeway toll lanes
 Motorists travel on the 405 Freeway through Costa Mesa in November.

State transportation officials are moving forward with a controversial plan to add toll lanes to a busy stretch of the 405 Freeway in Orange County despite strong opposition from nearby cities who argue the so-called "Lexus lanes" will hurt average commuters.

In December, Orange County Transportation Authority board members opted not to support the toll lanes in favor of a plan that would add one free lane in each direction, even though they were warned at the time that state officials may override the decision anyway.

On Friday, the California Department of Transportation announced it was doing just that, arguing the toll lanes would offer welcome respite for commuters.

“We’ve got over 400,000 people using the 405 corridor every day,” said Ryan Chamberlain, Orange County district director for Caltrans. “I’d say there’s going to be a lot of people celebrating this decision.”

The plan would create two high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction along a 14-mile stretch of the freeway from the 605 Freeway to Costa Mesa at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion.

 Despite Orange County's history as a longtime proponent of toll lanes and roads, the idea of putting pay-to-drive lanes on the 405 Freeway -- in part by using money from the county's half-cent sales tax -- generated heated local resistance and months of rancorous debate.

As county transportation officials mulled how best to expand the 405, six cities along the route banded together to fight what some derisively referred to as “Lexus lanes,” saying they would put an unfair burden on commuters, push traffic onto local streets and prevent motorists in toll lanes from pulling off the highway to patronize local businesses.

On Thursday, Caltrans' project development team, which includes OCTA staff and consultants, recommended the toll lanes option, Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain called the decision a “fantastic” one and said he does not anticipate departing from the recommendation, though the project’s Environmental Impact Report will not be finalized for several months.

He argued that HOT lanes benefit commuters because they allow transportation officials to better manage traffic and provide a consistent option for faster travel.

The toll lanes expansion “moves more people, moves more vehicles,” Chamberlain said.  “It’s hands-down the most effective alternative and best performing alternative that we have.”

The Caltrans plan incorporates some of the OCTA proposal, but generated opposition because it adds the toll component and overtakes an existing carpool lane to create the two HOT lanes in each direction.

Caltrans is exploring the possibility of allowing vehicles with two or more occupants to ride free in the toll lanes, but a final decision has not been made, Chamberlain said.

The agency expects the bulk of project funding -- $1.3 billion -- will come from the county’s half-cent sales tax. But it’s unclear how the remaining $400 million will be raised. Chamberlain mentioned several possibilities including federal loans, grants and private investors.

London's Tube Is Dangerously Hot, and the City Can't Do Much About It

Temperatures inside trains have climbed above government guidelines for safely transporting livestock. But narrow tunnels leave few options for modern climate control. 


By Feargus O'Sullivan, July 25, 2014


It’s not fair to compare London’s cramped commuters to cattle; right now, livestock actually get the better deal. As temperatures in the U.K.’s capital push towards 90 degrees for the second week running, heat levels in London’s Tube and bus system have now risen above the EU limit at which it is legal to transport cows, sheep, and pigs. The highest recorded temperature on the network so far this year is 96 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees above the permissible 86 degrees Fahrenheit for livestock. 

If that sounds bad (and it does), London is actually doing OK compared to previous heat waves. In 2006, temperatures in one Tube train reached an unprecedented high of 116 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to a system that has no real air conditioning installed. At temperatures like these, so many people risk fainting that a crowded Tube carriage can look like the witness box at the Salem Witch Trials. So, how can London, city of fog, tolerate such steamy hell?

In small part, it’s due to a Keep Calm And Carry On attitude here that allows officialdom to depend on a public that will grumble (and somewhat enjoy doing so) rather than revolt. There have been a few rumbles of protest, such as this summer’s Naked Commuter, but London’s occasional impressions of the horrendous Black Hole of Calcutta are usually short-lived. By the time there’s consensus that overheating is acute, the worst has usually passed. It’s not like living on the United States’ Eastern seaboard where, if my memory serves me correctly, leaving the house throughout the summer makes you feel like you’re wearing a wet sock over your head. This is also why London finds itself annually immobilized and dumbfounded by its yearly three to five days of snow. It doesn’t necessarily seem worth a major investment in either snow plows or air conditioning for a few days’ disruption.

The real problem, however, is that London’s subway network just doesn’t have the room to solve the problem. The network was started back in 1863, before people even had flush toilets let alone artificially cooled air. But the oldest lines aren’t actually the worst offenders: London’s mid-Victorian lines were standard cut-and-cover tracks following the lines of streets, and they’re broad enough to accommodate new fully air conditioned trains. It may be long overdue, but London’s suit-wearers will be relieved to hear that these four lines will have standard air conditioning by 2016. Likewise, the wonderful Overground network—aka the Ginger Line—is fully air conditioned and blissfully cool.

Deeper down, on the rest of the network, it’s a different story. Tunnels on lines like the Central Line were excavated to be extremely snug. You see the cable covered walls screeching past directly outside the window. There just isn’t enough room within the tunnels to safely disperse the hot air expelled by air conditioning units. Trains on these lines do have some air blown in from vents (and windows at the ends of carriages that open to provide a breeze), but the gusts they provide is more Barbie hair dryer than Wuthering Heights.

A possible way around this would be to use heat pumps to cool stations and tunnels, rather than the trains themselves, but this solution still seems a long way off from being implemented. In the meantime, London’s transit users will just have to sit and stew.

Singapore's Early Morning Free Transit Program Has Been a Huge Success

Encouraging commuters to leave earlier has made for less crowded trains during the peak.

By Eric Jaffe, July25, 2014


Last week, Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki made a bold suggestion to improve the morning transit commute: offer free rides to anyone traveling before rush-hour. The idea is that by encouraging more early bird riders (in this case, those traveling between 6 and 7 a.m.), city subways and buses will be less crowded at the peak of the morning peak. Here's Soknacki, via the Toronto Star:
"Even if only a portion of those commuters do switch, it frees up capacity in rush hour when people can't or won't change their travel time."
An offer of free transit during a political campaign might seem too good to be true—the real-world equivalent of every middle-school student council candidate who's ever promised to get a soda machine for the cafeteria. But Soknacki's proposal, in keeping with his general approach to transit policy, is both reasonable and realistic. In fact, Singapore's transport authority has been running a similar pre-peak program for more than a year.

Singapore's program started in June 2013 for commuters using the MRT, the city's crowded subway system. Riders paid no fare if they exited at one of 16 heavily used MRT stations in the city core by 7:45 a.m. on weekdays. (Riders who exited at one of these stations between 7:45 and 8 a.m. got a slight discount—a little grace period before the true peak.) To facilitate the shift, MRT ran more off-peak trains and officials worked with large employers to promote flexible work schedules.

What Singapore wanted was what every subway commuter wants: just a little space to breathe on the rush-hour train, thank you. As of March 2013, when the MRT program was announced, about 36,000 people exited at one of the 16 core stations between 7 and 8 in the morning on weekdays, compared to 99,500 who got off at the same places between 8 and 9—a peak-off peak ratio of nearly 2.8 to 1. Ridership was nearly as high in the 15 minutes before 9 a.m. as it was in the whole hour before 8.

Land Transport Authority of Singapore
The program seems to have worked just as planned. About 7 percent of riders shifted out of the peak commute, according to officials, with the peak-off peak ratio falling closer to 2 to 1. Even more might have taken advantage of the free fares if they could have: about two thirds of non-participants said they didn't have flexible work schedules that permitted early arrivals. The city recently extended the program, which was supposed to end in June 2014, for another year.

Better passenger distribution—aka a comfier rush-hour ride—is but one of many reasons to set off-peak fares below peak rates. Just as a free early morning train might attract rush-hour riders, it might also attract rush-hour drivers, making roads less crowded, too. Off-peak service typically costs less for agencies to provide, and there's a positive feedback loop here, with more service leading to more fare revenue. And trains outside the peak lay the foundation for all-day transit systems with the power to reshape city mobility at large.

The big challenge with free fare programs, early bird or every day, comes down to funding. In Singapore, cost isn't much of a problem, as the MRT has one of the world's best farebox recovery rates; in Toronto, Soknacki has yet to offer cost estimates for a pre-peak program. But in terms of gaining popular support, subsidizing off-peak rates—as opposed to raising peak rates an equal amount, which would also shift ridership away from rush hour—is a wiser political move.

Probably not wise enough to save Soknacki, though. A Star poll from early July had the fringe candidate getting only 1 percent of the vote. If they held the poll on the subway during rush-hour, however, things might look different.

Smart growth and planning in the real world: Editorial


July 23, 2014

When it comes to the New Urbanism, smart growth and other planning trends, there is the theory and then there is the implementation in the actual places we live.

It comes as no surprise that the former is easier than the latter.

One of the many excellent tenets of these efforts to wean us from unsustainable sprawl surrounding the world’s metropolitan areas is that alternatives to the hegemony of the automobile must be encouraged. Accordingly, planners and activists have pushed for, and now are implementing, bicycle lanes on city streets that formerly were reserved entirely for car and truck traffic. In relatively flat, compact, gridlocked places like Manhattan, this is an especially compelling idea. And in many ways, it has worked — more bikes are on the road. But the pushback from cabbies and drivers has been tremendous.

In Los Angeles, an ambitious bike-lane program to set aside hundreds of miles of pavement in the city for cyclists hit a roadblock last week when Councilman Gil Cedillo backed away from support for a bike lane on Figueroa Street in Highland Park, saying removing a vehicle lane would cause too many traffic problems at peak commuting hours. Planners and cyclists, pushing back at that turnaround, say that the estimated added 47 seconds of drive time for cars on Fig is well worth the wait.

All California cities are required by law to update their general plans, which include mobility elements, every 10 years. That few cities in our own region really bother to do so is harmful to their citizens’ quality of life. But it’s also no wonder: The plans are filled with abstract jargon and acronyms that seem far from the way we actually live our lives.

Pasadena is in the midst of its own plan update. While never without controversy, and far from perfect, other cities in the Whittier and San Gabriel Valley areas can learn from the citizen-driven ways that for two decades now Pasadena has gone about the process, with its City Council listening to both its volunteer commissions and thousands of ordinary folks for input rather than simply relying on staff.

But last week the kinds of conflicts between suburbanism and urban cores that naturally arise as our cities change occurred. One group of downtown residents — thousands of people now live in the Playhouse District and Old Pasadena, where few did before — pushed planners to abandon the old Level of Service traffic analysis that focuses entirely on autos and trucks to analyze a city’s mobility.“Not only does LOS ignore non-auto modes, it impedes them, because the mitigation measures that result from an LOS analysis typically make conditions worse and more unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users,” the Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association wrote to the city.

Planning commissioners say Pasadena has gone further than any California city with the exception of San Francisco in already abandoning LOS. City planners would never think of widening a street, for instance, knowing that simply invites more traffic. But the fact is that San Francisco undeniably has more transit alternatives than Pasadena does currently. Even if we want to abandon our cars, most of us are stuck with them until city shuttles like Pasadena’s ARTS buses, along with regional light rail, are made more accessible to all.

Smart growth is in our future. We’re presently still a bit dumb, but with aspirations.