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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Viaduct, City Council share that sinking feeling

Some on the Seattle City Council feel WSDOT left them in the dark about tunnel-related settling of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. 


By David Kroman, December 9, 2014

Bertha's stalled, the Viaduct's sinking and Mike O'Brien's hopping mad.  

 Bertha's stalled, the Viaduct's sinking and Mike O'Brien's hopping mad.

On Friday, The Seattle Times reported that the Alaskan Way Viaduct had sunk 1.2 inches as the construction team responsible for the Highway 99 tunnel project "struggled to prevent risky soil settlement." The story about the viaduct sinking came as a complete shock to Seattle City Council members who, despite receiving a tunnel briefing from the Washington State department of Transportation (WSDOT) only days before, had not been informed that Highway 99 and Pioneer Square buildings had shifted. On Monday afternoon, WSDOT was back before the City Council to explain.

The Times’ story came out a day before the one-year anniversary of Bertha’s stoppage. The $2 billion tunnel project has been plagued by an ongoing string of problems: broken seals behind the cutterhead, an overheated main bearing, fears (ultimately groundless) about endangering potentially significant archeological deposits and now this sinking. Tunneling was supposed to be wrapping up about now. Instead, Bertha has carved out just over 1,000 feet (or 10 percent) of the waterfront tunnel. The project is already more than a year behind schedule, and Bertha is still stalled, and awaiting repair.

Any evidence of a sinking viaduct would be cause for concern, but initial reports in The Seattle Times suggested that the elevated highway had sunken uniformly, which causes little structural stress. Immediately following the Times’ article, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) emailed out a "public update" assuring that “some settlement was expected during tunnel construction,” and promising “no new damage to the viaduct.”

But in a second story, publishedon Monday, Dec. 8, the Times suggested that the viaduct settlement was not even, which would put the highway at risk for the kind of twisting and stress that could result in permanent damage. Despite that report WSDOT, in Monday's special meeting with the City Council, maintained that the highway had in fact settled uniformly, is safe for driving and will not close.

The discrepancy between the two accounts has the City Council confused, mad and worried.

WSDOT apparently registered the sinking of the viaduct in late November. They did not report it because, according to the department’s representatives, they wanted to be sure that they were in fact seeing settlement and not just some malfunction in their monitoring systems. “We saw the anomaly just before Thanksgiving,” said viaduct replacement project manager Todd Trepanier, “but it was not confirmed [as settlement] until Thursday [Dec. 4th].”

Councilmember Mike O’Brien, a strong tunnel opponent from the outset, did not accept this explanation from WSDOT. “We made it abundantly clear that transparency is going to be critical for us, for me, for the public," said O'Brien. "When they saw that they were settling ... at the bare minimum they should have said ‘we want to give you a heads up, we see some data.’ If they want to analyze the data more, fine. But let us know, as opposed to us reading about it in The Seattle Times.”

O'Brien's frustration was amplified by the fact that WSDOT had given a presentation to the council only days before the first Times story ran. During the presentation, WSDOT representatives spoke only of the excavation, never mentioning any potential settlement concerns. “I don’t know what’s going through their mind that they would give a presentation and not even talk about the settling,” said a clearly upset O’Brien.

WSDOT representatives apologized — but only for not sending the project update prior to the release of the first Times article. Their explanation? A malfunction stopped their e-mail notification from going out. WSDOT reps did not apologize for withholding information from City Councilmembers in late November when they first became aware of a potential settling issue, or during their presentation.

According to O’Brien, poor communication between the Council and WSDOT is nothing new. In March O'Brien, fellow councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sent a letter to WSDOT asking for information regarding safety thresholds and contingency plans for the tunnel project. WSDOT's response, according to O'Brien, was unsatisfying. “I don’t feel confident that I’m getting the information that I need,” he said.

Caltrans opens new I-5 truck lane and freeway widening in Santa Clarita


By Anna Chen, December 9, 2014

SANTA CLARITA — Hundreds of thousands of motorists will now enjoy reduced congestion and enhanced safety on a segment of Interstate 5 in Santa Clarita thanks to the completion of a $67 million project by Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) that has extended the southbound I-5 truck lane and added mixed-flow lanes in both directions in this heavily traveled corridor.

“I-5 is the backbone of California’s freeway system and is vital to our economy,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen. “The widening of I-5 and the extension of the southbound truck lane represent an important investment in our transportation infrastructure that will provide improved mobility, faster travel times for commuters, and more efficient goods movement for years to come.”

“The completion of this phase of the I-5 truck lane is part of a long-term plan to improve the movement of goods through the corridor,” said Metro’s Executive Director of Engineering and Construction Bryan Pennington. “More improvements are coming as phase two begins in a couple of years, with phase three on the horizon.”

The project, which began construction in May 2012, has added a fifth mixed-flow lane to northbound I-5 between State Route 14 and the Gavin Canyon undercrossing, a distance of 1.4 miles. The 3.7 miles of southbound I-5 improvements include a fifth mixed-flow lane between Pico Canyon Road/Lyons Avenue and a half-mile south of Gavin Canyon, and a new segment of truck lane that begins north of Weldon Canyon and merges with the existing truck lane north of the SR-14 connector. New median and outside retaining walls were also built to accommodate the widening.

More than 216,000 vehicles use this segment of I-5 every day, including 19,000 trucks, many of them traveling to or from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The new truck lane segment separates slower moving trucks from faster passenger vehicles on the steep grade in the area, reducing congestion and enhancing safety in all lanes.

The I-5 truck lane and freeway widening project was funded by Measure R ($1 million) and the State Highway Operation and Protection Program ($66 million, including $59 million in federal funding). The project contractor is Flatiron West of San Marcos, Calif.

EXPOunding on the Expo Line … and the Future of LA Transportation


By Ken Alpern, December 9, 2014

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-Well, the future is here, and the future is now ... almost.  Nearly 15 years after the Metro Board and Staff wisely teamed up with transit advocates to kill the idea of an Expo Busway and agreed to a light rail line, the die was cast for a new alternative to the horrifically-congested I-10 freeway.  Now it's time to focus not only the "sustainability" but the "accountability" of the once-and-future Expo Line: 

1) The Expo Line is the perennial example of what will be the countywide rail network for Los Angeles, with a new timetable as to when it will be completed:  2024 (as in the LA City Olympic bid)
The success, anticipation and excitement of a new 21st Century mass transit system during the construction of the Expo Line is what led to a successful Measure R, and might lead to a successful Measure R-2 (although there's plenty of soured feelings on mass transit and overdevelopment/overdensification, so the latter measure might not happen). 

Still, wanna know when the MetroRail network will reach the airport?  Wanna know when we'll finish the Westside/Mid-City/Downtown rail network?  2020-22 will be the rough date that our current batch of light rail line projects (Expo, Crenshaw/LAX and Downtown Connector) will be completed, with a LAX People Mover to boot. 

Not to disrespect the Wilshire Subway effort, but it'll hopefully be built out to Century City by 2022...yet it will be a herculean effort indeed to get it to the 405 freeway.  The big links for a L.A. City Olympic bid, however, will be incumbent on both a completion of the current batch of projects (which includes the Foothill Gold Line, by the way, for both geographic and political balance) and political will. 

It's hoped that Olympic bid fever would stimulate both construction project completion and economic development--the Olympics don't always help a city's finances, but in the case of L.A. it just might. 

2) Both courage and moral integrity are needed to ensure that the Expo Line, and other rail lines, are good neighbors. 

While it's understood that the recent era of LA City government is a morass of cowardice and corruption--let's not kid ourselves, because the Era of Villaraigosa that started with such hoopla has left us all with a fiscal hangover that to this day dogs the efforts of Downtown/City Hall to motivate Angelenos. 

Yet Mayor Garcetti's successful Kinkisharyo effort in Palmdale is a welcome alternative to the failed AnsaldoBreda effort of former Mayor Villaraigosa which was previously toted to bring rail car construction jobs to the City of LA.   

Antonio Villaraigosa appears to have been both a positive and negative role model of "lessons learned" for our current Mayor (including relations with other regions of the county to promote regional mass transit initiatives), and the "Silicon Beach" concept championed by Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin also deservedly generates excitement. 

However, the optimism of Expo Line fans of an alternative way to get around is more than counterbalanced by a pessimism (or at least sense of dread) of overdevelopment and traffic worsening that has been associated with the Casden/Sepulveda project and other "transit-oriented development" which betrayed the trust of many (most?) former Expo Line cheerleaders. 

The credibility of Angelenos in their City government has been slightly restored with the election of Ron Galperin as City Controller (kinda makes one wonder how on earth Dennis Zine ever was considered for that post), but the need for LA City government to limit-set with the DWP and restore both City services and the City budget process is still years behind.

Despite the perennial haters, Garcetti and Galperin and Bonin deserve the credit for what they've done, but filling in the hole that Downtown/City Hall left at their election is a job nowhere near completion. 

3) Transportation is great, but the accountability and credibility of the Expo Line Authority and Metro are the targets of showing the Expo Line was worth the effort needed to build it. 

Some in the transportation/planning world get it, and others don't (and some never will), but IS the Expo Line something that will be a positive alternative to Westside traffic and environmental issues? 
That's a hard question coming from yours truly, who gave up untold time, energy and funds to create an Expo Line--but it's a fair question that many are also asking. 

Those who fought (and still do fight) the Casden/Sepulveda, JMB and Hines/Papermate projects were also those who (for the most part) fought for the Expo Line...and who are still paying for it with respect to sales taxes. 

Therefore, the concerns about sufficient parking, sufficient pedestrian bridges, sufficient bicycle and bus amenities, and sufficient limits on transit-oriented development are all reasonable.  Spare us all the concerns about cost and economic viability--we KNOW that costs money and involves sacrifice, but political will can and always does the job...as well as a public sector that listens to the electorate who pays their salaries. 

Much of the recent debate over the potential transit-oriented development adjacent to the future Bundy/Olympic Expo Line station (the Martin Cadillac project) has very little to do with those developers (who, unlike Casden Associates really wants to play ball and make it work both financially and environmentally) but more with City Planning and the LADOT. 

Shall "affordable housing" be focused on students, seniors and low-wage workers living/working/studying near a transit station with the intentions of reducing car trips, or will it be feel-good nonsense? 

Shall densification near transit stations be balanced with a sharp "hands off!" to single-family and other neighborhoods and adjacent commercial corridors with respect to REDUCING densification in those areas?  As in open space for parks?  As in small parking lots to obviate the need for streetside parking and create a more open atmosphere, and to preserve the parking rights of residential homeowners? 

Shall traffic counts be appropriately applied to make sure that "transit-oriented development" doesn't WORSEN pollution, traffic and water/energy usage?
All good questions, and all awaiting reasonable and credible answers. 

I know that I am not the only transit/Expo Line advocate who has second thoughts at times about whether the Expo Line fight was worth it--the Casden/Sepulveda fight brought out more than a few of us who still have these lingering doubts, and I heard more than a few admissions as to whether we were viewed as helpful visionaries or useful idiots. 

No one wanted the Expo Line to ruin any neighborhood--it's supposed to make things better for those communities who fought to make it a reality.  As the completion date of 2015, and the operational startup date (planned for early 2016 after testing is completed) draws ever closer, it will be up to our new leadership to show that...after all the effort that went into it...the Expo Line was worth everything that was put into its creation.

Paris Aims to End Its Pollution Misery by Cutting Out Cars

To emerge from its toxic fug, Paris is enacting what could be the most drastic anti-pollution measures seen in any major world city.


By Feargus O'Sullivan, December 9, 2014


 When it comes to city pollution, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is clearly ready for battle. Speaking to the French press Sunday, Paris’ first female mayor announced what could be the most drastic anti-pollution measures any major world city has implemented yet: By 2020, no diesel fuel at all will be burnt within Paris. Regular cars will be banned outright from its more polluted roads, which will be open solely to electric and hybrid vehicles. Meanwhile, the city’s most central districts (the first four arrondissements) will be barred to all but residents’ vehicles, deliveries, and emergency services, transforming Paris’ Right Bank core into a semi-pedestrian zone. As a counterbalance, the number of cycle lanes will be doubled by 2020, while the city will fund an extended electric bikeshare scheme to encourage more people to get on two wheels. “I want us to be exemplary” Mayor Hidalgo has declared. She seems to be putting money where her mouth is.

 If these plans sound drastic, it’s because the problem is, too. Central Paris is still traffic-snarled and often overlaid with toxic fug, evidence of a pollution splurge that the French press claims reduces the average Paris metro area citizen’s life expectancy by six months. In the past year, Paris has already taken some unprecedented measures to combat the problem. During a pollution spike this March, the city went as far as banning cars with odd-numbered license plates from entering Paris proper in a bid to cut city traffic. Coupled with free public transport, this measure had a perhaps surprising effect: It actually worked, with nitrogen dioxide and particulate levels dropping hard—by as much as 30 percent in places.

Since coming to power in March, Hidalgo has kept on a roll with anti-pollution measures to back up this tough stance. She’s already started getting rid of city buses that run on diesel, a particular national bugaboo in France because previous state policies heavily promoted its use. Now its greater particulate and nitrogen dioxide emissions have provoked an official backlash, and Paris wants engines burning the fuel off the roads. It’s only fair to point out that by creating 25 percent of Paris’ particulate pollution, road transport is just one source of the city’s problem. Another substantial chunk—23 percent in total—comes from heating with wood fires. You might expect the city to deal with this problem first—and in fact, they have. As of January 1, 2015, all wood fires will be banned within Paris proper.

There’s no denying that the plans will make it harder to get around Paris in a private vehicle. Not only will Paris’ heart become impenetrable to outsiders’ cars, major thoroughfares designated “pollution canyons” (including the Champs Élysées and the Rue de Rivoli) will be barred to all but ultra-low emitting vehicles. Perhaps predicting protest, Mayor Hidalgo has suggested as-yet vague exemptions for poorer households who use their diesel cars only occasionally, as well as exceptions for weekends.

Cyclists and electric-car drivers stand to benefit. The proposed doubling of cycle lanes across the city will be planned especially to benefit longer-distance commuters. The new lanes will make it far easier to cross from the suburbs into Paris proper by providing new routes across the Boulevard Périphérique beltway, while there will also be new east-west and north-south protected cycle arteries. Such measures might seem unthinkable in more car-dominated cities, but as Paris officials have pointed out, the proportion of Paris proper residents who don’t own a car is rising fast. In 2001, the number of car-free Parisians was at 40 percent. This year, their number has risen to 60 percent. Paris’ government may be speeding in a new direction, but they seem to have the wind behind them.

Road to more gridlock


By Bill Bauer, December 7, 2014

MY WRITE — Santa Monica has some of the worst traffic in Southern California – and the nation. Think that relief is in sight? Forgeddabout it! Our City Hall deals with the situation by implementing policies and programs to make congestion and gridlock even more heinous.

The latest manifestation of City Hall’s upraised middle finger to residents is the unveiling of a reconfigured Second Street between Colorado and California Avenues. Traffic engineers have removed one traffic lane in each direction and replaced them with bright green “bicycle only” lanes.

The traffic carrying capacity of one of Santa Monica’s most critical thoroughfares has been halved for, at most, less than five percent of its users on bicycles who could ride in the old traffic lanes to begin with. What’s next? Dedicated skateboard lanes? Pogo stick pockets? Special Segway runs?

It’s all part of the city’s Bicycle Action Plan which calls for infrastructure alterations citywide to create more visible, safer, dedicated bikeways on a number of city streets to encourage more bicycling.

There are major flaws in the strategy. Facilitating the ability for the vast majority of people get around should be the primary goal. Instead, we get the usual and tiresome social engineering experiments, designed to get more of us on bicycles.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to emphasize “sharrows” or shared traffic lanes with painted bicycle logos on them to remind everyone to share the road instead of reducing street capacity and exacerbating congestion?

How about installing bicycle lanes on an “as needed” basis such as when street usage reaches 25 percent bicycles? What about putting bicycle-friendly amenities on less congested streets that are more lightly traveled by motorists and inherently safer?

Work is underway on the Colorado Esplanade, which will result in only one motor lane, wider sidewalks and new, dedicated bike lanes on four blocks of Colorado adjacent to Santa Monica Place and Sears just west of the future Fourth Street Expo Light Rail Terminal. Head shake.

Many of my friends and associates already avoid going west of Lincoln Boulevard because of the hideous traffic and expensive, inconvenient parking associated with the area. The throttling of Second Street is just one more reason to avoid crowded, congested and touristy Downtown.

Last month, City Council approved $10,405,580 for a bike share program that will utilize 500 high tech, rentable “smart” bikes for 60 to 75 projected rental “hubs” located throughout Santa Monica.

I’ve seen bike sharing in operation in London, England and I think it’s a great concept. The blue “Boris” bikes with their prominent Barclay’s logo are everywhere. Remember, this is Santa Monica. Things will get screwed up – like the new Big Blue Bus stops.

CycleHop LLC was unanimously awarded the contract to provide the hubs and bikes that will come with an eight-speed drive shaft (chainless) system, integrated lighting and locking systems, mobile connectivity, GPS/security tracking and adjustability features. These proposed rent-a-bikes are overly-complicated and costly.

500 bikes for over $10M? Prorated, that’s $20,000 per bike! And, that’s just the start. Watch this balloon into $15M to $20M before City Hall’s social engineers get a handle on it.

Tariffs will include hourly, daily, monthly and combo Blue Bus/bike rates. For the casual rider, it’ll cost $2 for every 20 minutes of rental time. $6 per hour is also way too expensive.

Metro is working on its own bike-share system for Los Angeles County raising the issue of compatibility (or lack thereof) with systems in other communities. And, a corporate sponsor has not been signed to subsidize our operation.

There’s more bad news. City Hall’s “Pedestrian Action Plan” is in the works. If it turns out anything like the Bicycle Action Plan, expect even more mobility problems as street traffic capacity will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of unwanted behavioral modification.

Who da Mayor?

With Kevin McKeown again being the top City Council vote-getter in the November election, you’d think he’d get some respect from his colleagues on the dais. McKeown has never been Mayor in his 16 years on the council. The closest he’s come was Mayor Pro Tem from December 2001 to November 2004.

Over the years, he’s been shut out by pro-development faction on the council spearheaded by his arch-nemesis and current Mayor, Pam O’Connor. “Teflon Pam” is on record as saying that he’d never become Mayor as long as she was on the dais.

But, with the retirement of Bob Holbrook and the election of slow-growth Sue Himmelrich, the balance of power on council has shifted. Himmelrich joins Ted Winterer, Tony Vazquez and McKeown on the anti-development side leaving O’Connor, Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis on the side that favors more development.

You’d think that McKeown would garner at least four votes from his colleagues at tomorrow evening’s council meeting, become Mayor and be able to finally thumb his nose at “Teflon” Pam.

There’s a lot of posturing and political maneuvering behind the scenes. Neither O’Day, Davis or “Teflon Pam” have enough votes necessary to become Mayor. I’m hearing rumors that one slow-growth councilperson may not back McKeown.

That means a compromise may be in the cards with Winterer then most likely to become Mayor if McKeown can’t muster the fourth and winning vote. Of course, all of this is speculation. Anything could happen.

As for me, I say Kevin’s paid enough dues that he should be appointed Mayor. His time is overdue and “Mayor McKeown” just sounds good.

California prosecutors sue Uber; Lyft settles


December 9, 2014


California prosecutors sued Uber on Tuesday over the ridesharing company's background checks and other allegations, adding to the popular startup's worldwide legal woes.

San Francisco County District Attorney George Gascon also announced that Uber competitor Lyft agreed to pay $500,000 and change some of its business practices to settle its own lawsuit. Lyft will have to pay only half the fine if it complies with the agreement's terms over the next year.

The lawsuits filed in San Francisco Superior Court are the latest legal hurdles to confront the nascent ridesharing industry. The industry in general - and Uber in particular - have been battling lawsuits and regulatory issues over whether the businesses are regulated taxi services or app-making technology companies.

"Uber continues to misrepresent and exaggerate background checks on drivers," Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. "It's not our goal to shut them down. What we're saying is their advertising is false."

Lacey partnered with Gascon in a probe of the ridesharing industry. A third company - Sidecar - is still under investigation and could face a lawsuit of its own if it can't reach an agreement with prosecutors, Gascon said.

Uber's lawsuit accuses the company of misleading consumers by claiming it conducts "industry-leading" background checks on its drivers. Gascon said that claim is false since the company doesn't fingerprint its drivers.

Uber uses information supplied electronically by its applicant drivers for background checks. But applicants can get around those checks by using stolen or false identifications, Gascon said.

"Only a fingerprint-based process can ensure this is not happening," he said.

Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend defended the company's role in California in a statement that did not address specific allegations.

"Uber is an integral, safe and established part of the transportation ecosystem in the Golden State," Behrend said. "We will continue to engage in discussions with the district attorneys."

Uber also is being sued for charging passengers an additional $4 for trips to and from San Francisco International Airport even through the company lacks a permit to do business at the airport and neither Uber nor its drivers pay the airport fee.

Taxis must pay for a permit to do business at San Francisco's airport and other major airports in the state.

Further, Uber is being sued for charging passengers an additional $1 per trip for a "safe ride fee," which the company claims helps pay for its "industry-leading" background checks.

Finally, the lawsuit accuses the company of failing to obtain approval from state regulators on how drivers calculate fares. Taxi cab meters are tested and verified by an agency in California's Department of Agriculture.

Government entities around the globe are grappling with how to regulate and monitor ridesharing companies. Taxi and limousine drivers and companies complain that the ridesharing companies should be subjected to the same regulations and fees they face around the world.

The ridesharing companies counter that their drivers are private contractors who use the startups' technology to find customers in need of rides.

Uber, in particular, is fighting numerous legal and regulatory battles as it aggressively expands worldwide.

The city of Portland, Oregon, on Monday filed a lawsuit seeking to halt Uber's expansion in that city, arguing the company failed to obtain the proper permits.

A Nevada judge temporarily barred Uber from operating in the state.

Overseas, police in India questioned an Uber executive about the company's claim it conducts comprehensive background checks. And a top official called for the taxi-booking service to be banned nationwide after one of its New Delhi drivers was arrested Sunday and accused of rape.

Separately, Spain has barred the company's operation, and Thailand said it was illegal for private cars to be used as taxis and threatened fines of $60 for each violation.

Nonetheless, the San Francisco-based Uber raised $1.2 billion in its latest round of funding from venture capitalists, a sign investors were little fazed by the legal woes.

The latest investment put a value on Uber at $40 billion.

Economic summit addresses jobs, poverty in Southern California