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

Monday, September 21, 2015

SB-767 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority: transactions and use tax.(2015-2016)


Are megaprojects worth the money?


By  Tom Bailey, September 21, 2015

Record levels of investment are being funnelled into megaprojects. Tom Bailey asks whether the transformative nature of such schemes can justify the exorbitant costs

The Channel Tunnel lorry terminal. The project was 80 percent over budget for construction

 Record levels of investment are being funnelled into megaprojects. Tom
Bailey asks whether the transformative nature of such schemes can justify the exorbitant costs

It is often said that the defining feature of humans – what separates humanity from the animal kingdom – is our manipulation and mastery over nature. Since the Neolithic revolution and the start of history, humans have, to varying degrees of success, attempted to re-craft the environment to their own ends, rather than be subject to the whims of nature. From the Bible designating the earth as man’s dominion, to Enlightenment authors such as Sir Francis Bacon encouraging humans to “put nature on the rack and extract her secrets”, the drive to control nature and gear it towards humanity’s ends has been a constant impulse.

Around the world, this sentiment seems to remain, with governments and businesses engaging in large construction projects altering the Earth and the way we traverse it, from high-speed rail changing how humans travel, to audacious canals and dams harnessing the power of water.

Let the steppes be trampled
With the start of the 19th century and the inauguration of industrial society, reaching its apogee in the 20th century, this impulse reached dizzying heights, in both theory and practice. To support the needs of emerging mass industrial society, and encouraged by constant technological and scientific development, large infrastructure projects were built.


The minimum spent on megaprojects per year

Following the Civil War, America criss-crossed itself with rail tracks – at no small human and financial cost – allowing for the movement of people and goods across its vast expanse. This was soon copied by the Russian Empire, which in the late 19th century completed its own rail network from one end of its sixth of the world to the other. In the 20th century, from the deserts of the American West, to Ghana’s Lake Volta and further east to China’s Yangtze River, huge dams were constructed, manipulating the natural flow of water, with an eye on improving humanity’s lot, be it through regulating water supply or providing electricity.

This impulse is perhaps best summed up by the Soviet writer V Zazurbin in 1926, when faith in human’s ability to reforge nature was perhaps at its peak: “Let the fragile green breast of Siberia be dressed in the cement armour of cities, armed with the stone muzzle of factory chimneys, and girded with iron belts of railways. Let the taiga be burned and felled, let the steppes be trampled.” Likewise, Zazurbin’s contemporary, the poet V Mayakovsky, once quipped, “After electricity I lost interest in nature. Too backward!”

The age of megaprojects
While the rhetorical flourish of earlier enthusiasts for such projects may now be absent, government bureaucrats with large plans and larger budgets, however, have not. We are, it seems, living in an age of the megaproject.

First, it is worth outlining what exactly a megaproject is. The word itself seems self-explanatory: some sort of large-scale construction project. The term, however, is a discreet label. The word megaproject first appeared, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, in 1976. According to Bent Flyvbjerg in a paper for Oxford University entitled What You Should Know About Megaprojects and Why: An Overview, they can be described as “large-scale, complex ventures that typically cost $1bn or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people”.

One of the key characteristics of megaprojects, which the words of Zazurbin seems to have anticipated, is that they are they are transformational. They are ‘trait makers’ of a society or economy. As Flyvbjerg notes, “They are designed to ambitiously change the structure of society, as opposed to smaller and more conventional projects that are ‘trait taking’, that is, they fit into pre-existing structures and do not attempt to modify these.” Such projects are often viewed as infrastructure style projects, but can also include water and energy provision, industrial plants, space exploration, urban regeneration, as well as less material types such as IT systems.

These projects, then, are said to be dominant in our age. Total megaproject spending is assessed at $6trn to $9trn per year, which amounts to eight percent of total world GDP. According to The Economist, we are living through the “biggest investment boom in history”, estimating infrastructure spending in emerging economies at £2.2trn ($3.44trn) annually between 2009 and 2018. Likewise, McKinsey Global Institute claims that global infrastructure spending will be $3.4trn per year between 2013 and 2030, which would amount to roughly four percent of global GDP.

Alongside this, the amount spent is accelerating at break-neck speeds. Despite the rhetoric of industrialisation and modernisation that China’s Communist rulers espoused in the 20th century, “In the five years between 2004 and 2009, China spent more on infrastructure in real terms than during the entire 20th century, which is an increase in spending rate of a factor of 20.” Furthermore, China built as much length of high-speed rail track between 2005 and 2008 as Europe has in the past two decades.

To demonstrate the large scale of megaproject spending, Flyvberg makes a comparison to US debt to China, which is often viewed as an important and potentially destabilising aspect of the world economy. Megaproject spending is “the equivalent of spending five to eight times the accumulated US debt to China, every year”.

Geopolitical influences
Yet despite such a boom in spending for these transformative projects, many look upon them dispiritingly. Opposition to transformational infrastructure projects – what we now call megaprojects – is nothing new. In her Concise History of Germany, Mary Fulbrook notes, in reference to Germany’s massive construction of railways in the 19th century, “The Prussian King’s publicly expressed doubts about whether being able to arrive in Potsdam a couple of hours earlier really constituted a major contribution to human happiness.”

Moreover, according to Nancy Alexander, Director of Economic Governance at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, one major issue with » megaprojects is that the rationale behind these projects is not economic but geopolitical. “These megaprojects are driven largely by geopolitics”, she writes – rather than carefully considered economics. “The United States has begun to worry that its hegemony will be challenged by new players and institutions, such as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, she continues. “In reaction, the Western-led institutions, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, are aggressively expanding their infrastructure investment operations, and are openly calling for a paradigm shift.”

The criticism, however, seems to miss the point. If certain megaprojects are indeed intended to make certain countries politically more powerful on the world stage, the questions begs how this is intended to do so. Outside of defence projects, the answer seems to be by increasing the economic power of the country, be it through increased manufacturing, transport or trade capacity, through the construction of large scale ports, industrial zones or plants to meet industry energy requirements, or extensive rail and road networks. Whether a country sees these as part of a plan to strengthen their state or simply create economic growth, the result is the same: more jobs, more trade and faster transport for citizens. For most megaprojects to pay geopolitical dividends, they must surely first present economic dividends.

Top 10 megaproject cost overruns
Defining success
One major problem with megaprojects is that they are notorious for their propensity to overrun in both completion and budgets. As Flyvberg notes, “Nine out of 10 such projects have cost overruns; overruns of up to 50 percent in real terms are common, over 50 percent are not uncommon”. Many famous megaprojects have faced serious overruns (see Fig. 1). However, in a table provided by Flyvberg, nearly exclusively, with the exception of four projects out of 32 listed with the highest overrun costs, all are located in economically developed nations. Once reason for this could be that such countries typically face more stringent regulation, both environmental and social. Tough planning laws, greater legal recourse and denser population mean opposition from those living in areas affected by megaproject construction costlier, resulting in the need for high legal costs. Likewise, more stringent environmental regulations can often slow down construction, as well as adding to legal compliance costs.

This suggests that overrun costs are not necessarily inherent to megaprojects, but rather to do with the political environment. European and North American countries have made a political decision – right or wrong – to enact legislation, which gives people legal recourse against megaproject constructions or various pieces of legislation. All of this amounts to extra costs in both direct terms but also in paying for legal experts to ensure all the rules are followed.

One case of such a project encountering overruns is the Channel Tunnel. The underwater tunnel connecting Britain and France was intended – and expected – to be profitable. The project, however, went 80 percent over budget for construction and 140 percent above for financing, while revenues have been 50 percent lower than expected. “The project has proved non-viable, with an internal rate of return on the investment that is negative, at minus 14.5 percent with a total loss to the British economy of $17.8bn; thus the Channel Tunnel detracts from the economy instead of adding to it”, wrote Flyvberg.

Yet despite being a financial failure in terms of generating a profit, the Channel Tunnel can be seen as a success in other ways. As a piece of technological engineering it is impressive, being one of the largest underwater tunnels in the world. Both symbolically and practically, it connects the UK to the rest of Europe, allowing for passengers to quickly and easily cross the English Channel.

Many major projects have been crippling overrun, yet we could not imagine the world economy without them. The Panama Canal overran by 200 percent, while Suez Canal in Egypt did so by an eye watering 1,900 percent – surely a great loss to all involved at time of construction. Yet these projects – as megaprojects are intended to be – were transformational. Panama, without its canal would surely not be home to one of the continent’s most impressive cities, Panama City, not to mention the obvious benefit of opening up a shipping route that cuts through the American continent. Likewise, by opening up shipping from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, global trade without the Suez Canal seems unimaginable.

Megaprojects are transformative for economies. While they often overrun, this seems to be a trend restricted to areas where regulation is stronger – pushing up costs. And overrunning on costs does not indicate a megaproject itself as a failure; trait-making as they are, they can provide long-run foundations for economic growth. Indeed, while the term megaproject is relatively new, any major industrialisation pursued by an economy – the only sure-fire way to address poverty – has either relied on such projects, for instance railway building, or on the creation of large planned industrial zones. In and of themselves megaprojects are vital to both address present poverty and ensure the world’s continued economic prosperity.

Long Beach Port project means more cargo by rail, less by trucks


By Karen Robes Meets, September 16, 2015


 A third rail line has been added underneath Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach, CA on Wednesday, September 16, 2015. Wednesday marked the completion of the nearly 3-year, $93 million Green Port Gateway project that saw the addition of 6 miles of new rail track laid around the Port of Long Beach. It's hoped that the project will reduce truck traffic and pollution with more cargo being moved by rail.

Sounding train whistles, civic and harbor officials on Wednesday touted the completion of a three-year Port of Long Beach project that seeks to push more cargo on rail while eliminating the number of truck trips on the road.

Paid in part with state and federal funds, the $93 million Green Port Gateway project solves a critical part of managing cargo growth for the nation’s second-busiest seaport by adding a third track on the southeast side of the port to ease bottlenecks, officials said.

The new nearly 6-mile track near Ocean Boulevard serves the Long Beach Container Terminal, International Transportation Service and Pacific Container Terminal, which combined handle half of the cargo that flows through the port complex.

The project also supports Middle Harbor, a new mega-terminal capable of handling 3 million container units and involved rebuilding part of Harbor Scenic Drive and 6,000 feet of retaining wall.

“This Green Port Gateway rail project is a perfect example of the types of initiatives that the Port of Long Beach will be embarking on to ensure that we can move the cargo quickly,” said harbor commission board President Lori Ann Guzman.

Officials also lauded the project’s environmental benefits, which include eliminating as many as 2.3 million truck trips and 300,000 tons of greenhouse gases. Trains put out one-third less greenhouse gases on a ton-mile basis compared with trucks, according to the port.

“It’s a very, very aggressive project, but I’ll tell you, it is what drives all of the benefits of the environmental focus that we have here for the port,” Chief Executive Jon Slangerup said.

The rail project allows the Port of Long Beach to meet its near-term goal of moving cargo by on-dock rail by 35 percent and eventually by 50 percent, Slangerup said.

“(This) marks another big step as we build the port of the future here in Long Beach,” he said.

Drivers Have the Most Stressful Commutes

Transit riders and walkers, who avoid the “unexpected delays” of traffic, stack up better in a new survey.


By Eric Jaffe, September 21, 2015

Image KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

 There’s nothing quite like the unpredictability of traffic when it comes to commuter stress.
So says a research trio that’s analyzed commuter survey results of people who walked, rode transit, or drove to work or school in Montreal. The survey measured the various objective (e.g. travel time budgets) and subjective (e.g. trip pleasantness) stressors felt by some 3,800 students, faculty, and staff of McGill University during their commute on a typical winter day. Drivers had the highest average stress, largely owing to “unexpected delays”:
This additional time budget indicates that they have, perhaps paradoxically, less control over their commute than commuters on other modes. Frequent and unpredictable occurrences require of them a peremptory stance toward their commute, where extra time becomes the best way to assure arriving to work or school on time.
Drivers in the study budgeted an extra 21 minutes in travel time, on average, to deal with traffic congestion. They agreed more strongly than walkers or transit riders with the statement that “the only good thing about traveling is arriving at my destination”—suggesting they derive less enjoyment from the trip itself (perhaps they’d prefer to teleport?). Drivers also expressed stronger desires to commute more by walking or transit than either of those modes did about driving.

Only a handful of previous studies have evaluated the relative stress of various commute modes. Some have found driving and riding transit to be equally stressful—and indeed, transit wasn’t far behind driving in the current study. Other results from the current study fell in line with related research: longer commutes were more stressful commutes, and active commuters (in this case, just pedestrians, as there weren’t enough cyclists to include) tended to be more satisfied with their trip.

The new work also tried to identify certain stressors specific to each mode. For drivers, predictability was the big problem. Transit riders (subway, train, and bus alike) had their own predictability issues; transfers were associated with more stress, as were wait times—a stressor that speaks to the psychological power of real-time arrival screens. Pedestrians were the “least stressed mode group,” with feeling safe from car traffic their biggest concern.

The researchers conclude:
Active transportation modes are not only environmentally and socially more sustainable, they are also a less stressful way to travel. On[e] way to increase pedestrian mode-share is to protect walkers from traffic and provide more pleasant and more comfortable streets to walk on. Furthermore, public transportation is also less stressful than driving, which is found to involve (somewhat perversely) less control for commuters. Increasing the predictability and range of transit options in an era of increasing driving unpredictability could lead to a greater transit mode share.
That last line is key. Driving might be the most stressful commute mode, but it often remains the most common one out of necessity. When there’s a reliable alternative, however, commuters respond accordingly—in the current study sample, 54 percent rode transit and 29 percent walked, with only 17 percent driving to work.

This Week in Livable Streets


By Joe Linton, September 21, 2015

Push for bike lanes on Central Avenue! Plus Vision Zero, Metro board, Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s South L.A. listening tour, North Hollywood re-development, an EYCEJ art exhibit focused on the L.A. River, and more!
  • Wednesday 9/23 – The USC School of Cinematic Arts Gallery hosts a 4 to 6 p.m. opening reception for “Urban Visions: Art as Social Practice.” Details at Facebook event.
  • Wednesday 9/23 – TRUST South L.A., Community Heath Councils, and Ride On! (bike co-op) are hosting a safety pit stop and press conference on Central Avenue at Vernon at 6 p.m. From their flyer: “Come out and support the implementation of a bicycle lane on Central Avenue. Every day, bicycle riders risk their lives transporting themselves to and from work, school, grocery stores, and other important errands. Central Avenue has the highest number of bike riders on it in all of Los Angeles, averaging one bicycle rider per minute. Come out and support the Central Ave. bicycle lane!” Contact TRUST at 323.712.2371 for more information or Estuardo@trustsouthla.org.
  • Wednesday 9/23 – Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson convenes a town hall as part of his Eighth District listening tour. The free event takes place at Algin Sutton Park at 8800 S Hoover Street in South Los Angeles. To RSVP contact Ansley Jean Jacques at ansley@cocosouthla.org or (323) 750-9087. Future meetings will include Green Meadows and Vermont Knolls. Details at Facebook event.
  • Thursday 9/24 – Metro’s monthly board meeting takes place at 9 a.m. at Metro headquarters behind Union Station. Agenda includes approving the Call for Projects, a new Parking Ordinance, and plenty more.
  • Thursday 9/24 - The LADOT and the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance host the public event, “What Does Vision Zero Mean for Los Angeles?,” featuring LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds and national Vision Zero Network Director Leah Shahum. It’s free, with plenty of bike valet, at L.A. City Hall from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Details and RSVP at L.A. Vision Zero Alliance.
  • Thursday 9/24 – Metro hosts a community meeting for its North Hollywood parking expansion, with some development thrown in for good measure. The workshop takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library at 5211 Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood.
  • Saturday 9/26 – Community Services Unlimited is hosting “Earth Day Every Day” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Center at 6569 S Vermont Ave in South Los Angeles. Come support the movement for Healthier Food Access in South L.A. by enjoying seasonal local produce, handmade small batch chocolates, gardening give aways, Chinese medicine consults, Chicana Apparel clothes, vendors, info booths, music, and more. Details at Facebook event.
  • Saturday 9/26 – #ReclaimingTheLARiver. Youth from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice will be presenting a photography and film exhibit focused on reclaiming the dignity and respect of the L.A. River for the South L.A. river communities. The films and photo exhibit will explore both the history and the potential of the river. All films and photography will be original work from EYCEJ Youth and will be used as a public comment tool to support CommunityAlternative7 for the 710 Fwy project. The exhibit will be held at the Maywood Riverfront Park (5000 Slauson Avenue in Maywood) from 6 to 9 p.m. Details about the event and feeder rides to it can be found here.