Governor Jerry Brown embarked on a trade mission to China, where he was seeking funds for the state high-speed rail project, which is still short on money to the tune of $55 billion. Brown was amazed at how China built much of its HSR system in only a span of a few years. CAHSR Authority Boardmember Dan Richard asserted that certain Chinese companies are already expressing interest in the California project. However, given the spate of negative press the project continues to receive from vocal critics, Brown must return to California with results… preferably in the form of cash. Of course, it doesn’t help that one of the leaders in bringing HSR to China was recently charged for accepting bribes.
The California State Legislature has some work to do to reform state environmental law. An April 1, 2013 court ruling on RCTC’s long-proposed Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension shows that Judge Sharon J. Waters ruled in favor of the opposing party on 5 of the 15 environmental concerns brought up in court: Negations to the soil, track lubricant usage, pedestrian safety, train wheel noise pollution, and construction related noise. This leaves the Perris Valley Line case in a complicated position under the current law, but the legislature has the power to avert further delays caused by broad court rulings through its power to change the law.
As reported, the state legislature has been working on and should follow through on its promise to close up California Environmental Quality Act loopholes so courts cannot delay, veto or overturn large projects which actually benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion like the Perris Valley Line. Such lawsuits delay important projects which get paid for by the taxpayer. It is a common fact that a rail transit alternative for the I-215 corridor would reduce congestion and pollution by providing a multi-modal transportation option to single-occupancy automobile travel, thus fulfilling the goals and intents of state environmental law which is to protect the environment. To be fair, issues such as construction-related pollution should be dealt with by fining construction firms that excessively pollute. Same holds true for pedestrians who illegally trespass into an active rail right-of-way.
Smart Growth America just released a new report ranking the strength of new Complete Streets policies passed by local communities in 2012. Three of the top 10 cities that conform to Complete Streets policies are in California: Hermosa Beach, Huntington Park, and Rancho Cucamonga. See the full list here.
Even as residents near the proposed Southern California International Gateway fester their consternation, both the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News came out in support of the project. The two editorials cite the economic contributions the ports bring to Southern California, often in a manner that is taken for granted. However, both also note that concerns from nearby residents must be allayed before a shovel of dirt is turned for the project, even as proponents assure that the project will remove 1.5 million truck trips on the Long Beach Freeway every year. If the GRID Project was built, the SCIG would be unnecessary.
A bill to frame the investment of a significant portion of cap-and-trade revenues is beginning to make its way through the Assembly. AB 1051 would create the Sustainable Communities for All program with the goal of “providing transportation and housing choices that allow lower income Californians to drive less and reduce household costs.” The program would finance affordable housing in transit-oriented development, fund transit passes and add other ways to target high-propensity transit riders, energy efficiency improvements for homes affordable to low- and moderate-income Californians, and other vital programs and projects.
This funding is particularly important now that the state’s redevelopment funding has been eliminated and public transportation funding in California has been cut by more than $4 billion over the past decade. Cap-and-trade revenues are projected to reach nearly $4 billion per year by 2015, representing a critical opportunity to address the state’s mobility crisis while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public health, and reviving our economy. The bill will be heard on April 17 in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee and the Assembly Transportation Committee on April 29. To learn how you can support this bill contact TransForm’s Cap-and-Trade Campaign Manager, Ryan Wiggins.
It is with profound sadness to report that Dan Turner, editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, has died of pancreatic cancer at the tender age of 49. Turner is best remembered for the humoristic yet knowledgeable tone he brought to the wide gamut of subjects he wrote about, from gun control to wildlife, from civic issues to sports. He was especially helpful with The Transit Coalition in listening to our positions and considering them whenever he wrote an editorial piece concerning a transportation issue. Turner will be missed, and our condolences go out to his family.
Also, former Metro CEO Julian Burke has died at 85. Burke led the agency during a tumultuous time when Metro Rail construction faced intense scrutiny from both local and federal governments. Burke arrived in 1997, just a year after the Consent Decree fought for by the Bus Riders Union took effect, leading to gradual increases in bus service. Burke was frequently called “turnaround expert” for his experiences in fixing ailing companies before he took charge of Metro. His actions have helped lead Metro to what the agency is today: An improved stalwart of governmental confidence. His actions are greatly appreciated and will be remembered.
For some years, California has regulated the content of sulfur in gasoline, allowing just 10 parts of sulfur per million parts total (ppm). The rest of the country follows more generous requirements of 30 ppm. However, the Obama Administration is proposing to bring the national limits in line with those of California. Automakers and environmentalists joined forces in supporting the proposal, stating that lower sulfur content can improve the efficiency of catalytic converters in vehicles, which in turn further reduce the amount of harmful particulates exiting exhaust pipes. However, oil companies and Congressmembers from oil-producing states are against the change, claiming that the health benefits are minimal.
A $1.6 billion harbor maintenance initiative by the federal government could mean good tidings for the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Previously, the Port of LA received nothing from this pot of cash, to which US Senator Barbara Boxer offered a bill that would provide the port with $2 million to $5 million a year initially. California ports have long suffered fiscal neglect from the federal government, raking in $430 million in taxes on shippers for the feds in 2011 but getting back $54 million. However, this effort also reveals more cunning ways lawmakers are getting around laws and rules prohibiting earmarks.
We’ve all heard about bike boulevards, but bike freeways? That’s what bike infrastructure opponents in San Francisco are calling the latest proposal to install bike lanes on Polk Street. Specifically, proponents are fighting for the removal of curbside parking and replacing it with bike lanes and parklets. Proponents also cite the high number of bike crashes along the street, obviating the need for safety improvements. Opponents fear that removing parking would jeopardize businesses along the street.
After reviewing the California high-speed rail project, the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that the ridership and revenue projections were reasonable. However, the agency also noted that the CAHSR Authority, which is responsible for managing the project, has adopted only some of its recommendations, to which the GAO warned that the Authority risks incurring cost overruns and delays if advice is not heeded. However, former proponent Quentin Kopp won’t hear any of that, for he is now against the current project on account of its perceived change of scope, including the blended plan through the San Francisco Peninsula. Former Congressmember Lynn Schenk has also changed alliances precisely because of this development. How can HSR succeed with friends like these?