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, August 22, 2014

A Bullet Train Through the NE Valley at 200 MPH: Cause for Some Concern and … Considerable Angst


By Rosemary Jenkins, August 22, 2014


JUST SAYIN’-We have heard about high-speed rail for decades and have often been envious of the examples that some countries (like Japan with its awesome bullet trains) have already set for the rest of the world.  The State of California is finally promoting a system of its own under the auspices of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) whose bullet train will eventually extend from Sacramento in the north to San Diego in the south with a number of stops along the way.  
Despite the acclaim for this method of transportation, this project has been enveloped in considerable controversy.  For example, at a time when money is short, is this the right time to launch such a massive project?  Will there be adverse environmental effects in various parts of the state as a result?  Especially disconcerting to many is why the Central Valley is the location for the first segment of this rail line instead of the regions which would utilize it the most?  

Of particular concern to Angelinos is the segment currently being designed and considered that would affect the rail tributary between Burbank and Palmdale.  Both LA Councilmember Felipe Fuentes and San Fernando Councilmember Joel Fajardo are in agreement that an above-ground line from Burbank to Palmdale at some 200 miles per hour without any stops in the Northeast Valley would produce some unintended consequences. 

Fuentes says, “The CHSRA should also investigate the impacts the system will have on Council District Seven’s walkability, bikeability, equestrian paths, open space, noise, wildlife, and traffic”—all very consequential issues. 

Years ago there were, in fact, housing divisions between Whites on the north side and Blacks and Latinos to the south—a racially-charged situation.  San Fernando City Councilmember Robert Gonzalez shared with me something his grandmother revealed to him (Fajardo shared a similar anecdote).  A number of years ago it was “illegal” for minorities to cross into the wealthier white community after sunset—with threat upon life and limb.  This reminds me of similar practices in Burbank and Glendale (and in Oildale just outside Bakersfield when I lived near the “border” as a little girl).  These townships were once called “sundown cities” (just as Ferguson was formerly known but whose current residents are hopeful that it will not regain that moniker). 

Thus, the idea of erecting sound walls on either side of the proposed above-ground tracks through the City of San Fernando (and LA District 7) is a distressing reminder of the fear and horrors that people of color have experienced.  It would literally be a wall (like the Berlin wall) dividing the community.  Clearly, such construction would hold historical and emotional significance for the affected residents (many of whom have lived through that traumatizing period of our history).  Now, when racial tensions there are at a minimum, this rail line would once again produce a symbolic bifurcation of the community along racial lines.  

The proposed sound-barrier walls would produce a number of significant side effects.  Current intersections for vehicular traffic would have to be tunneled underground—a situation which could cause traffic jams and further dangers for pedestrians and bicyclists.   

Furthermore, cutting the downtown business district of the City of San Fernando in half would result in decreased patronage of those shops and restaurants along the line and could cause some establishments to go out of business altogether.  The significantly important tax base would be diminished as well with terrible ramifications. 

Certainly, there are also safety concerns:  It would be much more difficult for emergency vehicles to gain access to affected areas—police, firefighters, EMTs, and ambulances.  Currently a police station is located on the corners of Brand (now used for exit) and First Street (used for entrance).  If there were no tunnel under Brand, the police would have to use only First Street for both egress and ingress, causing possible log-jams and even accidents.  (Remember the terrible fire at the Oakridge development a few years back which burnt down a vast majority of housing units there.  Fire trucks were hindered by the interior curbing design and thus were slowed in reaching their destinations in a timely manner.)  

What is more, San Fernando Middle School is located by the current tracks.  Its students would encounter dangers when approaching and leaving the school should the rail system be built above-ground. 
The San
 Fernando City Council recently passed a resolution supporting the concept of high-speed rail but only if the tracks were to be built underground (a design which would also include local Metro Line tracks).  Since the City of Santa Clarita has been promised underground-only tracks, the question is why the Northeast Valley cannot be guaranteed the same.  The SF Council has created an ad hoc committee which has and will continue to meet with the Rail Authority to enlighten its members and consider reasonable accommodation for all or most concerns. 

With the creation of underground tracks, the current tracks would be removed and could provide green spaces for picnic areas, dog parks (which presently do not exist), bike and pedestrian paths, and so forth. 

For a brief time, a stop at the San Fernando Metro Station was considered but was quickly eliminated since there are currently Metro Lines between Burbank and Palmdale that riders can take to pick up the bullet train in either place.  Furthermore, a stop in the Northeast Valley would add to the traffic situation and cause the removal of the Arco gas station at Truman and Hubbard.  

Burbank, on the other hand, has been selected as a logical stop since it would be near the Bob Hope Airport.  From Burbank, the line would continue to Union Station downtown LA. 

It seems counterintuitive that the reduction of stops would produce higher ridership--that is  because people who choose the high-speed option want to arrive at their destinations faster than other means of travel would deliver.  More stops, however, could provide added opportunities and incentives for a new ridership (that might not otherwise use this train) to get to their destinations.  A veritable conundrum for all involved. 

One answer to some of these concerns would thus be placing the track underground in the affected areas.  Another resolution would be tunneling the track under the San Gabriel Mountains (exiting through Lake View Terrace and continuing directly to the Burbank Airport).  

As for the massive expenditure of dollars over the next few years in order to complete this project, we should recognize the greater worth of seeing this project to its culmination.  In a time of great un- and under-employment, this project will produce at least twenty thousand rail-related jobs, both temporary (construction jobs) and long-term (operational, administrative, and maintenance), and thousands of others that would be created to support the consumption demands of these new laborers. 

Besides, monies have already been allocated for these changes through the 2008 Los Angeles Measure R and a State Proposition that same year.  The latter proposal built on the 1996 creation of the Rail Authority which, in turn, helped place the high-speed measure on the 2008 ballot.  Both the Measure and the Proposition passed by popular vote. 

The project’s implementation would remove 12 billion pounds of greenhouse emissions every year!  Underground rails would also reduce the impact on the plants and animals which now live freely in our environment and with whom we presently enjoy a symbiotic relationship. 

There have already been a number of SCOPING meetings (to discuss the scope of the project) during which time residents and others affected by this proposal were able to make statements, ask questions, hear expert testimony, and so forth.  

There will yet be a separate meeting sponsored by the Sylmar Neighborhood Council which will be open to all.  Please plan on attending and offering your valuable input into this very important issue that ultimately will affect all Californians, let alone those living in Los Angeles. 

Just sayin’.

  • Comments to the CHSRA (must be received by August 31, 2014):

  • Land Mail:  Mr. Mark. A. McLoughlin
                        Attn:  CHSRA Project/Southern California/Regional Office
                        700 N. Alameda, Room 3-532
                        Los Angeles, California 90012

  • E-Mail:

                        a.  Palmdale to Burbank:
                        b.  Burbank to Los Angeles

  •  Phone:  800-630-1039 
  • Sylmar Neighborhood Council Meeting:      
                  Sylmar High School Auditorium
                  13050 Borden Avenue, Sylmar 91342
                  SHS:  818-833-3700
                  SNC:  818-833-8787

Thursday evening,August 28, 2014, 6:30 p.m. (please come early as parking may be limited–in the parking lots or on the street)

Draft environmental document released for Eastside Gold Line phase 2 project

By Steve Hymon, August 22, 2014

Eastside Map

Metro released the draft environmental study today for a project that could potentially extend the Gold Line from East Los Angeles to South El Monte or Whittier. In addition, the study also looks at a Transportation Systems Management (TSM) alternative which identifies potential bus upgrades and the legally required no-build option.

Metro will conduct four public hearings during the 60-day formal comment period, each of which will include a 30 minute open house where the public can view the Draft EIS/EIR, see project displays, get more information on the project and talk to Metro staff. Meeting date and times are: 

Saturday, September 27, 2014
Pico Rivera Senior Center
9200 Mines Avenue
Pico Rivera, CA 90660
Open House: 9am
Public Hearing: 9:30am – 11:30am

Monday, September 29, 2014
Quiet Cannon Banquet Center
901 Via San Clemente
Montebello, CA 90640
Open House: 5:30pm
Public Hearing: 6pm – 8pm

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Uptown Whittier Senior Center
13225 Walnut Street
Whittier, CA 90602
Open House: 5:30pm
Public Hearing: 6pm – 8pm

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
South El Monte Senior Center
1556 Central Avenue
South El Monte, CA 91733
Open House: 5:30pm
Public Hearing: 6pm – 8pm

The study process has been closely watched by communities along both potential light rail routes as an extended Gold line would provide an alternative to driving on the frequently congested 60 freeway or traffic in communities along the Washington Boulevard alignment. The two light rail options, shown above, would both begin at the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension’s current terminus at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards in East Los Angeles.

•The “SR 60″ Alternative would extend the Gold Line for 6.9 miles to South El Monte with four proposed new stations. The train would run adjacent to the 60 freeway, mostly on aerial structures, and include four new stations serving Monterey Park, Montebello and South El Monte.

•The “Washington Boulevard” Alternative would extend the Gold Line for 9.5 miles to Whittier with six proposed new stations. The train would follow the 60 freeway and then turn south, running on an aerial structure above Garfield Avenue until turning east on Washington Boulevard and ending near the intersection of Washington and Lambert Road. This alternative would serve Monterey Park, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Whittier.

Estimated ridership for the SR 60 alternative is 16,700 boardings each weekday with a cost estimate of $1.271 billion to $1.296 billion, according to the draft study. Estimated ridership for the Washington Boulevard alternative is 19,900 daily boardings per weekday with an estimated cost of $1.425 billion to $1.661 billion.

Metro staff plan to recommend a Locally Preferred Alternative to the Metro Board in November. At that point, it will be up to the Metro Board of Directors — who oversee the agency — to decide how to proceed with the study.

Rail is seen as a viable alternative because work trips in the study area are expected to increase by 32 percent by 2035 and peak-period travel times increase 25 percent in the morning and 34 percent in the evening by 2035. Metro also says the area has a “significant” level of transit dependent, with 38 percent of the study area’s population under 18 or over 65 years of age and 16 percent of the households categorized as “low income.” Twelve percent of the households have no vehicles.

The study — formally called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report — is a legally-required document needed before any project can be built. The study considers the need for a project, a variety of project alternatives, potential impacts and mitigations. The draft study is a prelude to a final study that weighs public opinion and incorporates changes from the draft study.

The expense of both alternatives is due, in part, to the long aerial sections required due to lack of space at ground level and/or narrow streets. The SR 60 alternative would run almost entirely on aerial structures. The Washington Boulevard alternative would use aerial structures along the 60 freeway, Garfield Avenue and parts of Washington.

Funding for a potential extension of the Eastside Gold Line was included in the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase that was approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008. Measure R is scheduled to provide $1.27 billion for the project. Metro often assembles funding from several local, state and federal sources to fully fund large transit projects.

Under Metro’s long-range plan, the second phase of the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension is not scheduled to be in operation until 2035. But Metro decided to move ahead with the draft study should funds be secured that would allow the agency to build it sooner.

One potential source of funds would be an expansion of federal funding for transit projects through Metro’s America Fast Forward (AFF) initiative. Congress hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to expand AFF. The Metro Board of Directors has also discussed the possibility of a countywide ballot measure in 2016 that could possibly supply money needed to accelerate this project and others.

Another Measure R project, the Regional Connector, is under construction in downtown Los Angeles and will be a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that connects the Gold Line to the Blue and Expo Lines. That will be significant for riders along the Eastside Gold Line — the Connector will allow for a one-seat ride into the heart of downtown without first having to travel to Union Station and transfer to the Metro Red/Purple Line subway.

The Eastside Gold Line project has thus far proved to be an interesting reversal on the way transit projects are done in L.A. County. In years past, rail projects have often been heavily resisted by cities or particular neighborhoods — for example, until this summer, there was a state law prohibiting rail from being built along sections of the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.

However, cities along both potential Eastside Gold Line alternatives have been actively championing the respective alternatives since they were first identified in earlier studies several years ago. The obvious upside is that community support makes it a lot easier to build and fund transit.

The downside, in this case, is that there is not enough Measure R funds to built both light rail alternatives, and there would also be operational challenges involved in splitting service between two Gold Line segments. 

If the Metro Board of Directors decided to consider building both alternatives they would have to find a way to fund it. Even a potential new sales tax ballot measure in 2016 is challenging because of the two-thirds threshold it would need to be approved and an already long list of projects that are candidates for funding.

The project could potentially extend the Gold Line from its current terminus at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards in East Los Angeles, above, to South El Monte or Whittier. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.
The project could potentially extend the Gold Line from its current terminus at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards in East Los Angeles, above, to South El Monte or Whittier. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch


By Steve Horn, August 21, 2014

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing.

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

But the Long Beach City Council voted “nay” in unanimous fashion to do the environmental impact study. Earthjustice had argued it was required to do an environmental review under the legal dictates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“It's disappointing that the City would turn a blind eye to even doing some basic analysis of the impacts of this decision to lock into 15 years of exporting dirty fuels abroad,” said Martinez.
“More than 100 residents showed up at the August 19 hearing to support pausing this deal and are deeply concerned about how climate change and pollution from exporting dirty fuels impacts them and future generations.”

Adding insult to injury, Sierra Club endorsed Vice Mayor and City Council member Suja Lowenthal in her Democratic Party primary race for State Assembly, which she recently lost

The floodgates have been opened, then, to export massive amounts of coal and petcoke from the self-styled “Green Port.”

It comes at a time when numerous California refineries are retooling themselves to blend more tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), which gets to the Golden State mainly via rail.

Further, it happens at the same time critics say the Obama Administration is exporting climate change by exporting coal abroad — often to countries without any meaningful regulations — even as his administration regulates U.S.-based coal-fired power plants.

Union, Oxbow Representatives Oppose Enviro Review

While the majority of those who testified at the August 19 hearing before the Long Beach City Council voted spoke in favor of doing an environmental impact statement, several industry executives and union workers spoke out against it.

 (See website for a video.)

“First and foremost, you should know the facilities on Pier G are world-class operations that set the bar for environmental excellence in our industries. We are very proud of what we do here with the port,” Clayton Headley, Oxbow's vice president of supply for the Pacific region stated at the hearing.

“The assets and operations of the Port of Long Beach…are known throughout the world as examples of how things ought to be…Like the Port, we take our environmental stewardship seriously.”

A few members of organized labor also took the side of the “Other Koch Brother” at the hearing.
Jesus Guzman, a unionized employee at Oxbow who has worked there for 18 years, said that Oxbow has a “great track record and everything has been for the better” since he began working there.

Jesus Guzman, Oxbow Employee

“I work 12 hours a day and I have a clean bill of health. I don't have asthma, I'm not diabetic and [again] I work 12 hours a day,” said Guzman. “I'm here to say please allow me to be a sole provider for my family for 15 more years.”

Bobby Olvera, Jr., President of International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 13, also spoke out against an environmental review at the hearing.

Bobby Olvera, Jr.

“I can't believe we have to come here”

On the other side of the debate, some citizens argued this is not a debate over jobs, it is a debate over having to follow basic bread-and-butter environmental law.

“I can't believe all of us have to come here and practically beg you for a CEQA review,” said Long Beach citizen Catherine Castro. “I must've been asleep at the wheel thinking our elected officials were watching over us. My fault. But now I'm not asleep anymore. Those of us who put you in office, you're here to serve and protect us and the city.”

Another citizen, Jeff Miller, sang a similar tune.

“We had a couple of speakers who spoke about the economic benefits of this project and touted their community involvement, as well, and they sort of implied that 40-50 years of operating the way they have is reason enough to allow them to continue operating as they are because of these benefits. The implication is that these things will go away if they have to do the right thing. And I know we don't believe that,” said Miller.

Jeff Miller

“We're not asking that these operators necessarily leave the port: they're not going to do that. Every day I find a nice layer of film of dark, black dust on my porch,” Miller continued. “We breathe that dust,I don't know how much of that is attributable to this operations or the port operations, but shouldn't we find out? That's what an environmental impact report will tell us.”

According to an NRDC blog post, Earthjustice and its clients (of which NRDC is one) are still in the process of figuring out what their next steps will be after the ruling.

Proposition 65: Port Exhaust Warning



The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the nation's two largest ports. Not surprisingly, the many operations at the Ports generate diesel engine exhaust. Operations involving the use of diesel fuel include: (i) cargo and cruise ships arriving and docking at the Ports, (ii) trucks and trains moving goods; and (iii) terminal equipment loading and unloading cargo.

Diesel engines have been in use for many decades. Only recently have alternative fuel blends or modified diesel engines become available. Some operators at the Ports voluntarily have converted to using newly available fuels and engines in place of standard fuels or older engines for some of their operations. In addition, California laws are mandating changes in Port operations which already do, or will, require newer, cleaner burning engines and fuels.

Diesel engines produce smoke as a by-product of the combustion of diesel fuel. The smoke contains gas compounds and fine particles (called "soot" or "particulate matter"). On October 1, 1990 the State of California listed diesel engine exhaust as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer pursuant to Proposition 65, also known as "The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986". In 1998, the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment ("OEHHA") added diesel engine exhaust to the State's list of toxic air contaminants.

In 2008, pursuant to Proposition 65, the Attorney General of California reached an agreement to provide warnings to the community with the operators at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles listed here. Proposition 65 requires a "clear and reasonable" warning be given for listed chemicals, such as diesel engine exhaust, and the components of that exhaust, that cause cancer or reproductive harm.

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TBM recovery shaft delays in Seattle


By Peter Kenyon, August 20, 2014

Design modifications to the shaft currently being excavated to enable access to stricken TBM Bertha have pushed back its completion by a month and eaten into the two months of ‘float’ time built into Seattle Tunnel Partners’ initial (June) recovery plan.

STP Project Manager Chris Dixon
Confident: STP Project Manager Chris Dixon
Construction of the shaft was due to be completed under the original schedule by the beginning of October, but this has now been pushed back to the end of October or early November. The work is taking longer than previously anticipated as a result of complications surrounding installation of the exceptionally large interlocking piles that are needed to make the shaft self-supporting and thereby enable the TBM to break through. The total number of piles has increased by 11 from the original design, to 84 in total. Despite the delay, Chris Dixon of STP told reporters at a press conference in Seattle on July 29 that the latest delay will not impact on the planned resumption of the TBM drive in March 2015.

Todd Trepanier of WSDOT
Concerned: Todd Trepanier of WSDOT
In the TunnelTalk Podcast (Podcast 1, below) Dixon details the works currently taking place and explains why changes were needed to the shaft’s initial design.
At the same press conference Todd Trepanier of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) told reporters that the latest delays have served to increase already existing concerns about the ability of its construction team to resume mining in March 2015, as stated in the original June 16 recovery plan (Podcast 2, below).

Podcast 1 – Chris Dixon explains TBM recovery shaft delays

Podcast 2 – Todd Trepanier voices WSDOT concerns

Recovery shaft excavation delays