Meeting Announcement: Bike Plan and 710 meetings on Monday, Nov. 19. *Updated

The City of Alhambra has two meetings (that are of particular interest to me and perhaps to you) scheduled for next Monday, November 19.

5:30 p.m.: City staff will present a draft Bicycle Master Plan to the City Council during a study session meeting.  According to Chris Paulson, assistant to the city manager, the draft Bicycle Master Plan will be available on a bike plan specific web site — http://www.alhambrabikeplan.com/  — by the close of business tomorrow (Nov. 14). I’ll update this post at that time. Click to view the official meeting announcement (PDF).

Update: The draft Bicycle Master Plan is now available from: http://www.alhambrabikeplan.com/alhambra-bmp/documents/

7:00 p.m.: The City Council invites the community to attend an informational meeting to “find out more on the status of the 710 Gap Closure and to show [our] support for the completion of the 710 Freeway.” Click the image to the right to read the invitation.Text invitation to a meeting regarding the710 freeway

Both meetings happen in the Ruth Reese Hall at the Alhambra Civic Center Library.

101 South 1st Street
Alhambra, CA 91801

Tell everyone you know in Alhambra about the meetings including your friends, family, colleagues, and your child’s teacher and school principal. Encourage them to attend both, even if they don’t intend to speak up. Meeting attendance, particularly for the bike plan, will tell the City Council whether that topic is a priority for Alhambra residents. If you cannot attend, contact Chris Paulson (626-570-5067 | cpaulson@cityofalhambra.org)  and give him your feedback regarding the bike plan and/or whether you think the bike plan should be a priority for the city. Low turnout at the meeting, or otherwise little interest expressed by the community will indicate to the City Council that it should spend the city’s scarce resources on other things.

P.S. I’m back in Alhambra so I expect to post more often regarding the bike plan, the 710, and other quality of life issues relative to Alhambra.

Affiliations and more

Greetings from Saipan, where America’s day begins. My family and I are doing well.

I want to personally take this opportunity to note that I am not affiliated with, nor do I support a petition drive that intends to place an initiative on the ballot to revoke the high speed rail bond (proposition 1A).

I have been highly critical of the Rail Authority, its planning, and its premature focus on the LA to San Diego route that would go through Alhambra. That said, I do think a high speed rail system will eventually be needed and built to serve California and our regional neighbors as a complement to our highway and expanding local rail networks. I more thoroughly expressed my viewpoint about the high speed rail project and the I-10 freeway corridor in an earlier post: Transitions – Part 1: California High Speed Rail Project. Also, while I voted against the original ballot measure, I likely will not vote against a ballot to revoke it and will strongly argue against doing so for a number of reasons I will share should I find time or the petition drive succeeds.

Lastly, on another note, I would like to promote my wife’s gluten-free and allergy-friendly web site: http://GiantHippo.org. In her own words:

Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Egg-free? Some-kinda-other-allergen-free? Presenting my new blog dedicated to cooking and eating authentically and well while allergen-free: www.gianthippo.org . I cook for my son, who has multiple food allergies and an adventurous palate. Most of the recipes are my own. The photos are hardly professional and yes, there are going to be more kids’ melamine dinnerware and even Legos in the pictures with every weekly update, but hey, that’s just how this mama rolls.

What are you waiting for? Visit: GiantHippo.org.

This is important stuff. Share with anyone you may know who has food allergies, has celiac disease, incurable eczema (generally due to a food allergy), or who just happens to need a recipe without those ingredients.

Transitions – Part 2: Welcome Gisela / Dan is Leaving

First, I would like to extend a warm welcome to Gisela Adams. Gisela will be taking over the Alhambra123.org blog/web site. She has promised to stir the pot well. Here is Gisela in her own words:

First, I want to wish Dan and his family all the best and a safe journey. I also wish Dan much success in his new job.  However, I will miss him a lot.  It will be tough to follow in his footsteps, but I will do my very best to keep up the good work Dan has started.

I will not let the HSR matter die just because there is no funding at this time for the LA – San Diego section.  The issue will come back with a vengence down the road and we need to keep up with the latest and be prepared to fight.

Secondly, I want to share a little of my background.  I have been a resident of Alhambra since December 1965 and have raised a son who attended the Alhambra school system.  My husband and I have been very happy in this city, but the prospect of having our community destroyed by the HSR has left us quite concerned and upset. Therefore, we have joined other like-minded residents in fighting the HSR being constructed through Alhambra.

Regards, Gisela

 

Second, as alluded to in the title, I am leaving Alhambra.

I accepted a position in Saipan. I will work as a law clerk for the territorial Supreme Court of the Northern Mariana Islands. My family and I are temporarily relocating to the island of Saipan, located 2/3’s of the way between Hawai’i and Manila, Philippines.

Politically, the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI, is a U.S. territory similar to Puerto Rico. It was part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific that was set up after World War II by the United Nations and administered by the U.S. In the 1970’s, CNMI chose to become part of the United States while other parts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific decided on independence. Saipan is the capital island of CNMI.

Geographically, Saipan and the rest of the islands that make up CNMI are part of the same archipelago as Guam (about 125 miles from Saipan) and classified as part of Micronesia. Less than 100 miles east of Saipan is the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest known portion of the Pacific Ocean.

Our plan is to return to Alhambra in the future. We love living in Alhambra. Not only that but Alhambra is at an exciting cross-roads and we’re sorry to miss out on what looks to be a critical time in the city’s transition. But we’ll be back. I may even pipe up from across the Pacific.

 

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”

— Mohandas Gandhi

The goal of this web site is to discuss and help improve the quality of life of Alhambra residents. It started as a place to share information about the high speed rail system, the plans to cut through Alhambra and neighboring cities, and ensure that we are all informed about meetings and when reports are issued. That goal has since broadened to include other related aspects of quality of life. With regard to the high speed rail project, the goal is to analyze statements and information (or lack of information) made available by the Authority so our community may make informed decisions regarding our opposition or support of the high speed rail plan.

Making a Request Under the California Public Records Act *updated

* Updated July 29, 2011: The City of Alhambra responded to the second part of my CPRA request.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. — Louis Brandeis

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is a powerful tool intended to hold our state and local governments accountable. At its most basic level, the CPRA presumes a record created by an agency or its employees is a public record unless exempted by the Legislature, and gives everybody a right to access public records in California.

In adopting the CPRA, the Legislature declared that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.” California Government Code § 6250. In addition, that concept is enshrined in the state Constitution: “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and therefore, . . . the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” California Constitution, Article I, § 3 (b)(1). As a result, the California Supreme Court has said that records “must be disclosed unless one of the statutory exceptions applies [and the] the party seeking to withhold public records bears the burden of demonstrating that an exception applies.” Int’l Fed’n of Prof’l and Technical Eng’rs v. Super. Ct. of Alameda County, 42 Cal.4th 319, 329, 165 P.3d 488 (Cal. 2007).

Here are some highlights of CPRA followed by a request I made to serve as an example. In addition, the First Amendment Coalition has a great primer on the CPRA that contains most everything you need to know about making a request. I highly recommend you read through and refer to it should you make a request.

Public records in electronic form
You are generally entitled to receive public records in electronic form. CPRA states in unequivocal terms that records held in electronic form qualify as public records and that an agency “shall make” those public records available in an electronic format. California Government Code 6253.9(a)

In any format you request
Likewise, you are generally entitled to receive those public records in any format requested. The text of California Government Code 6253.9(a)(1) and (2) are very clear. In general, you are entitled to receive public records in any format if it already exists in that format (native format). Your request must specifically ask for a particular format. The agency may charge you for any programming or special processing if the public record is not in the format you request. With that in mind, ask for each document to be in their native format, email to be in searchable PDF, and spreadsheets to be in spreadsheet format.

For example, if you request a public record in spreadsheet format, the agency may not give you an electronic file in PDF format if it has or will have that information in spreadsheet format. If you fail to choose a format, the agency may deliver the public record in any reasonable format, perhaps even PDF.

Here is an example of how to qualify your request:

I am requesting a public record in spreadsheet format. [AGENCY NAME] may not give an electronic file in PDF format if [AGENCY NAME] has or will have that information in spreadsheet format. At their most basic, PDF is a graphics format, while a spreadsheet is the front end application for a database. Spreadsheets allow for data manipulation; PDF files do not. In addition, this requirement is inclusive of databases or other programs with an export feature. If the program can export to a given format, such as a comma separated value format, then the record currently exists in that exportable format.


Agency must help
The agency must assist members of the public to “make a focused and effective request that reasonably describes an identifiable record or records.” To that end, the Legislature mandates that the agency do all of the following, to the extent reasonable under the circumstances:
(1) Help a member of the public “identify records and information that are responsive to the request or to the purpose of the request”
(2) “Describe the information technology and physical location in which the records exist”
(3) “Provide suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying access to the records or information sought.” California Government Code § 6253.1(a)

Federal Freedom of Information Act precedence
Federal judicial decisions matter a great deal with regard to disclosure of public records under CPRA. The California Supreme Court has noted a few times that CPRA was modeled on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And, as such, legislative history and federal court decisions related to FOIA play a major role in how California courts interpret CPRA. American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian, 32 Cal. 3d 440 (Cal. 1982); Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 3d 1325 (Cal. 1991).

For example, California courts have not faced questions about the format in which an agency must produce a public record. Federal courts have required agencies to provide spreadsheets in native format and to produce searchable PDF formatted files when addressing FOIA, the federal equivalent of Government Code section 6253.9(a). Although California courts have not yet addressed the question, it is likely they will follow the lead of the federal courts and require an agency to release public records in their native format.

Privacy may not be a barrier
Access may trump privacy in certain circumstances. For example, you may request and receive the names and salaries of city employees, which are public records under CPRA. Int’l Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) v. Superior Court of Alameda County, 42 Cal.4th 319 (Cal. 2007). The issue in IFPTE was limited to whether salaries for employees making over $100,000 is a public record; however, the discussion and holding for the case was not limited to a particular salary level. Under the holding of IFPTE, years of service and other information relevant to the discussion of compensation likely are public record.

In addition, California Attorney General opinions have said that public records include: (a) retirement benefits paid by the city/state, (b) payroll records of names and amounts received by retirees, and (c) amounts and reasons for performance awards. Although not binding, courts find Attorney General opinions persuasive and entitled to great respect. Since May, appellate level courts in Sacramento and San Diego have agreed with the AG opinions in widely watched opinions. At least one more appellate court is considering the same issue and is expected to make a similar ruling.

Ten (10) days to respond
The agency has ten days to respond. California Government Code § 6253. But it may request and receive an extension.

Attorneys Fees
CPRA has teeth. If you challenge an agency in court and win, that agency must pay your attorney’s fees. California Government Code § 6259(d); Filarsky v. Superior Court, 49 P. 3d 194 (Cal. 2002) That means you are quite likely to find an attorney to represent you in court if your request is not frivolous and has a chance of winning.

Note that the agency can recover its attorney fees if your suit under CPRA is frivolous.

The downside
Just as the CPRA can be used for good, it can also be used for annoying, offensive, or nefarious purposes. Gadflies who have nothing better to do than nitpick a city’s budget can constantly bombard that city with frivolous requests for emails related to specific budget items. If you’ve ever attended a city council meeting you will recognize the gadflies. Such requests often waste more money than they save. Secondly, a resident who dislikes the fact that Alhambra is now a diverse community may make public records requests related to the city putting Chinese and Spanish language inserts into envelopes with utilities bill statements to advertise the new online bill pay system. And third, a person looking to target major infrastructure for a terrorist attack may request flood inundation maps the government had prepared to better understand and communicate the serious risks to life and property should a dam fail.

Do not abuse CPRA!

I should note that we all think our requests are important and are not annoying, offensive, or nefarious. Follow a few common-sense principles when requesting public records:

  1. Plan your request. Before ever making a request, make a plan to scope out what information you are looking for and why. Identify what information you have available to you and what information you need. Research to find information. Only then should you make a request under CPRA.
  2. Research. The City of Alhambra and most other government entities already publish a lot of information. In addition, reporters, other organizations, and residents might have already requested and published the information you are looking for. An advanced Google search for  your topic restricted to only the City of Alhambra web site is a good first step.
  3. Do not make assumptions. Do not assume a document exists, that you will find a “smoking gun,” or that some city official (or conspiracy between officials) has singled you out and is out to get you.
  4. Ask for clarification first. If you are not sure what data exists, then ask what data exists before making a request. You may be surprised at how naturally helpful government officials will be with regard to your queries. Moreover, CPRA requires government agencies to help identify what exists (see above).
  5. You do not always need a document to answer your question. Sometimes, your question can be resolved with a simple phone call. For example, if you want to know why the budget contains a particular expenditure and how that affects a particular program you might get better resolution (and goodwill) with a simple phone call to the City Manager’s office. Or you can attend a City Council or committee meeting discussing that particular budget.
  6. Make your request narrow. Voluminous requests waste precious government resources and might get you denied. For example, the request I made (below) was very narrowly tailored to find out very specific information about the benefits and other compensation paid to former city council members.
  7.  Ask once. If you plan to make several requests or seem to make more than one request a month, combine them. Save yourself and the local government time and money.
  8. Ask: does this serve a general need? Ask yourself why you are making a particular request. If you are serving a general need of all citizens, your request likely is not abusive. If you have a generalized grievance that you cannot articulate well, or are on a crusade to trip up the city or against a particular official, then your request may be abusive.
    • For example, the request I made with regard to benefits of retired city council members is meant to inform all residents of the city. There has been a lot of press with regard to government compensation after the Bell scandal, including articles about arguably generous health benefits provided to Alhambra City Council members. No articles to date have addressed benefits paid to retired city council members, yet they receive the same benefits as current members. Now, with information related to retired city council benefits in hand, we have one more data point relevant to what we need when debating whether the Alhambra City Council is over-compensated and when prioritizing budget cuts. Do we cut benefits to retired city council members, city support for the Rose Parade Float, or the city fireworks display?


An example of a CPRA request – retired Alhambra City Council member benefits

Under Alhambra Municipal Code § 2.04.280, the city pays to provide medical, dental, vision, disability and life insurance benefits to some former city council members. Those former city council members must have served 12 years on the city council.

To find out how much was paid out by the City of Alhambra and for whom, I made a request to the Alhambra City Clerk under the California Public Records Act. I asked for benefit and other compensation details given during the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. A copy of the email thread is below.

The results:

  • During 2010, Alhambra paid over $30,000 in health benefits for two former Alhambra City Council members, Michael Blanco and Boyd Condie. Neither were on the City Council during 2010. (Google Docs) (PDF)
  • During 2009, Alhambra paid over $28,000 in health benefits for Michael Blanco and Boyd Condie. Neither were on the City Council during 2009. (Google Docs) (PDF). Initially, the city asked for more time to respond to my request regarding 2009. (Google Docs) (PDF).

Copy of the email thread:

June 26, 2011 – To the Alhambra City Clerk, Lauren Myles.

From: daniel bednarski
To: cityclerk1@cityofalhambra.org
Subject: Records request: Compensation of former city council members
Date: Sun, 26 Jun 2011 03:07:39 -0700

Dear Ms. Myles,

I would like benefit and other compensation details given during the
2009 and 2010 fiscal years for former city council members. I would like
names, current city/state if not Alhambra residents, and amounts of the
different benefit/compensation types.

Specifically, I am looking for health care and other benefits received
under AMC 2.04.280 but would also like details regarding any other
compensation received.

Alhambra Municipal Code § 2.04.280  HEALTH CARE BENEFITS.

“Every member of the City Council of the city who retires after 12 years
of service on the City Council shall in each year after their retirement
receive the same medical, dental, vision, disability and life insurance
benefits that sitting City Council Members receive during each such
year, but in no event shall any such benefits be less than substantially
the same health care benefits received during his or her tenure on the
City Council.  Such benefits and the premiums therefor shall be paid by
the city.”

Compensation details are public records. The California Supreme Court
has said that names and salaries of city employees are public records
under the California Public Records Act. Int’l Federation of
Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) v. Superior Court of
Alameda. In addition, California Attorney General opinions have said
that public records include: retirement benefits paid by the city/state,
payroll records of names and amounts received by retirees, and amounts
and reasons for performance awards. Thus, my request should be granted.

Lastly, I would like the information in electronic form. If stored
natively in spreadsheet format, then that format is preferred.

Thank you in advance,

Dan Bednarski

July 14, 2011 – Follow-up message noting the 10 days had passed

From: Daniel Bednarski
Sent: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:55 AM
To: City Clerk
Subject: Re: Records request: Compensation of former city council members

Hello,

I am following up on the following email I sent on June 26. I am seeking certain public records under the California Public Records Act. It has been over 10 days since I first made my request.

Best regards,
Dan

July 14, 2011 – Response from Ms. Myles asking for additional time

From: City Clerk <cityclerk1@cityofalhambra.org>
To: Daniel Bednarski
Subject: RE: Records request: Compensation of former city council members
Date: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 09:12:20 -0700

Dear Mr. Bednarski,

I never received your original request sent June 26, 2011. Perhaps there was a typographical error in my email address or it was just not delievered. I will begin processing your request today, but the 10 day response time will begin now, July 14, 2011, rather than June 26, 2011. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Best regards,

Lauren Myles, CMC
City Clerk
City of Alhambra
111 South First Street
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-1599

July 14, 2011 – My response assenting to additional time

From: Daniel Bednarski
Sent: Thursday, July 14, 2011 1:41 PM
To: City Clerk
Subject: RE: Records request: Compensation of former city council members

Ok, thank you.

-dan

July 25, 2011 – Response from Ms. Myles

From: City Clerk <cityclerk1@cityofalhambra.org>
To: Daniel Bednarski
Subject: RE: Records request: Compensation of former city council members
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2011 15:48:41 -0700

Good Afternoon Mr. Bednarksi,

In response you your public  records request received via email on July 14, 2011 (please see below) I have attached two PDF documents. The first contains the information you were seeking for the year 2010. As far as the information for 2009, we are still working with the City’s departments to provide the information for you. Please see the second PDF attached as it relates to the extension of time we will need to obtain the records for 2009. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you have any trouble viewing the attachments.

Best regards,

Lauren Myles, CMC
City Clerk
City of Alhambra
111 South First Street
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-1599

July 29, 2011

From: City Clerk <cityclerk1@cityofalhambra.org>
To: daniel bednarski
Subject: RE: Records request: Compensation of former city council members
Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2011 16:24:33 -0700

Good Afternoon Mr. Bednarski,

Please see the attached PDF. It contains the information you requested for the calendar year 2009.

Please let me know if you have any questions or trouble viewing the attachment.

Best regards,

Lauren Myles, CMC
City Clerk
City of Alhambra
111 South First Street
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-1599

Transitions – Part 1: California High Speed Rail Project

The California High Speed Rail Authority is putting its ambitious project from L.A. Union Station to San Diego into hibernation. The Rail Authority budget for the current fiscal year, beginning July 1, has no funding for any design, outreach, or other efforts to build the L.A. to San Diego line, which would potentially go through Alhambra and other cities in the San Gabriel Valley.

Instead, the Rail Authority has decided to focus completely on the first phase of the high speed rail project from San Francisco to Anaheim (Phase I). All funding that originally had been requested for the L.A. to San Diego line has been redirected to Phase I. The Rail Authority expects to break ground next year on a segment in the Central Valley between Fresno and Bakersfield. Phase I service is scheduled to begin between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020.

What this means for Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley:

Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley have a respite from the high speed rail project. I expect the project to remain in stasis for 5 to 7 years and perhaps longer.

Work on the L.A. to San Diego line will not be restarted until after Phase I is near completion or the state gets a lot of guaranteed money to complete Phase I and begin the L.A. to San Diego line concurrently.[1]

Waiting until 2020 to restart environmental studies for the the L.A. to San Diego line is in the best interests of the Rail Authority. Those environmental studies are necessary to complete the environmental impact report and environmental impact statement (EIR/EIS) required by state and federal environmental laws. The EIR/EIS process is expected to take 2 years to complete based on earlier statements by Rail Authority staff and contractors.

Even though it expects to begin service between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020, Rail Authority spokespersons told our community that it does not expect to not break ground for the L.A. to San Diego line until about 2025. That means, an EIR/EIS completed in 2017 or even 2020 will be stale and very likely vulnerable to court challenges when the Rail Authority breaks ground in 2025.

Sadly, there is a good chance that Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley get saddled with the high speed rail project like we are with the 710 extension between Alhambra and Pasadena. Delays in the project, cost overruns, and failure to meet ridership estimates may push back additional segments of the high speed rail network into the future. Moreover, if the Rail Authority repeats Caltrans’ mistake with the 710 and tries to use a stale EIR/EIS a court likely will halt all work and require an updated EIR/EIS before work can begin. In which case, our children may be grappling with how to fill a gap in the high speed passenger rail network.

Plan now for the future!

Alhambra and other cities along the I-10 corridor must plan the future of the I-10 corridor now.

The Rail Authority will be back one day. In the meantime, we need to take advantage of the time granted by the budget crunch and have a regional dialogue about what we want the I-10 corridor to look like in 25, 50, and 100 years. That way we can give direction to the Rail Authority when it does restart work on the L.A. to San Diego line instead of the other way around.

I recommend that all practical options for the I-10 corridor be evaluated and debated, even those that sound almost sacrilegious to our car-centric lifestyle. Here are four options that deserve some consideration.

1) No change. The I-10 would continue as it will look in 2013 when Caltrans completes its current construction project. We will be left with a whole host of questions, among them: What volume of traffic can it handle? What is the volume today? What will the volume of traffic be in 25, 50, and 100 years based on current population models? What can be done to handle congestion?

2) Congestion pricing. Multiple lanes would require drivers pay a toll when traffic density increases. Caltrans is planning to test congestion pricing as part of its current construction. During the test period, a single high occcupancy toll (HOT) lane each way would require single-occupant cars to pay a toll to use that  lane. Buses and carpools could use the lane for free but cars with only one passenger (the driver) would pay a toll.

3) Ground level rail expansion. The I-10 corridor would host a ground level double-tracked Metrolink line. Currently, part of the I-10 through Alhambra and its neighboring cities has a single track in a 20 foot right of way. This plan would require about 50 feet for a railway right of way. Meaning, it would take away about 30 feet from the freeway, or the width of 2.5 lanes.[2]

4)  Elevated road or railways. This option is in line with what the Rail Authority has already proposed running through the I-10 corridor. It will look a bit like the 110 freeway does south of Downtown L.A.

Someone will suggest adding a fifth option to expand the footprint of the freeway beyond its current boundaries today.  That should be a non-starter. Small adjustments should be expected for safety or other reasons strongly in the public interest, but no large scale expansions should be made to accommodate additional traffic lanes. If allowed to expand infinitely, when would Caltrans stop expanding the freeway? When it is a mile wide?

An Argument for Ground Level Rail Expansion

It may sound radical today but I personally support the third option, to expand ground level rail.

Under this plan, the Metrolink right of way would be expanded at ground level, a second set of tracks would be laid, and the system electrified and grade separated. Through Alhambra, the plan would take the two HOT lanes that currently do not exist today.

At its most basic, it would be a sister project to Alameda Corridor East (ACE), similar in scope and size. ACE is grade separating the Union Pacific freight railway as it goes through the San Gabriel Valley so as to separate auto and pedestrian traffic from trains. Part of the ACE project will continue the Alhambra trench along Mission Road past the San Gabriel Mission. Unfortunately, like the ACE project, it will be necessary to take some homes and businesses that are along the Metrolink route in other communities depending on the route, otherwise there may not be enough space to double track Metrolink.

The fundamental goal of our transportation system is to get as many people from where they are to where they want to go. With that in mind, the goal of the I-10 freeway corridor is to transport as many people as possible along that corridor. If trains can serve that goal better in the future as our population increases then we need to re-adjust some of our uses of the corridor back to rail. After all, Pacific Electric Railway tracks were torn out to put in the freeway. Of four tracks, the only one remaining is owned by Metro and used by Metrolink.

Expanding ground level rail along the I-10 will provide a number of benefits to the San Gabriel Valley.

First, Metrolink will be safer. Each set of tracks would carry trains in a single direction. Currently, Metrolink tracks are two way, meaning trains traveling both ways use the same tracks. Most of the gnarly Metrolink accidents have been head-on collisions due in part to track sharing by trains going in opposite directions.

Second, Metrolink’s capacity to carry passengers will increase. Today, its capacity is limited to the number of trains it can run along a particular route. Double tracking will allow Metrolink to safely increase the number of trains it can run.

Third, improving both safety and capacity can make Metrolink more convenient for travelers along the route. That in turn would mean fewer cars on the freeway.

One thing to keep in mind is that population will only increase. Few who live along the I-10 corridor want all those people trying to drive, further clogging the freeway and city streets. Our roads are already congested so we need to find other ways to utilize the corridor to get people around.

Fourth, emissions along the I-10 could be decreased. First, Metrolink will be electrified so its emissions will decrease to a negligible amount. Although diesel engines are cleaning up due to EPA regulations they still will have emissions. Second, removing two lanes of traffic will decrease particulate matter pollution. Apparently, a large part of the localized pollution along the freeway is dust from tires. If you live along freeway, you know tire dust as the black soot you can never seem to keep out of your house. It is also the reason areas adjacent to freeways have higher incidences of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Tire dust contains more than just rubber.

Fifth,the Rail Authority would not have any reason to build an elevated structure through the San Gabriel Valley. Metrolink and the Rail Authority could enter into a joint use plan that allows high speed trains to use Metrolink tracks. Moreover, Metrolink could generally serve the local L.A. to San Diego passenger rail market if it is double-tracked, electrified, and grade separated all the way to San Diego.

High speed rail will not travel at high speeds through our area. According to the Rail Authority, its trains will travel between 125 and 150 miles per hour through densely populated areas such as the San Gabriel Valley. If sharing tracks, its trains will be limited to the top speed Metrolink trains travel, which would be about 110 to 125 if grade separated, double tracked, and electrified.

Of course, there are several significant hurdles to such a plan.

1. Despite the fact that no law forbids Caltrans to take away freeway lanes it is not politically practical (not today at least). Freeway users and the business community will be outraged should anyone even mention taking away a freeway lane, let alone for rail.

HOT lanes should be considered operating lanes for sake of discussion because they are already under construction and will open in 2013. The HOT lane experiment will not be converted back to unused median. Caltrans will either continue its congestion pricing model or convert it to a HOV lane. That’s at least what Metro and Caltrans have said.

A Caltrans right of way rep who I spoke to last year told me that Caltrans would consider requests by the local county transit agency (Metro, OCTA, etc) if it directed Caltrans to utilize freeway lanes for rail transit. Caltrans does have a history of permitting joint use of certain freeway rights of way. Examples include Metro’s Gold Line in the center of the 210 freeway and Green Line in the center of the 105 freeway in South L.A. County.

2. Like any major infrastructure project, this project would cost a lot. How much? I’m not sure, but ACE is expected to cost a few billion dollars, the Expo light rail line cost Metro about $108 million per mile, and Caltrans is spending $1.34 billion to widen and install a carpool lane on the 405 in West L.A. from the 105 to the 101 freeways. Costs will depend on a number of factors including route chosen, whether property needs to be acquired, terrain, and costs to mitigate negative affects. This project, like other transit projects have a number of funding resources available to them including gas taxes, sales and other use taxes, and federal and state grants.

Bottom Line

Alhambra and other communities along the I-10 corridor need to take advantage of additional time given by the Rail Authority’s change in priorities. The Rail Authority will be back in the next decade, intent on building a high speed rail line between L.A. Union Station and San Diego. The most likely route will lead the high speed trains along the I-10 corridor.

The San Gabriel Valley needs to proactively consider and plan what we want and need of our future transportation infrastructure and freeway corridors.Doing so will give us a stronger leg to stand on and dictate to the Rail Authority how it may traverse our communities. Failure to do so means the Rail Authority will build 50 to 75 foot elevated platforms on which its trains will travel 125-150 miles per hour,  every 7 to 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year.

Alhambra123 will continue to follow the high speed rail project and post from time to time when information specifically relevant to Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley becomes available.

That said, we will also continue to post points of interest relevant to Alhambra. The goal of this web site has always been to discuss and help improve the quality of life of Alhambra residents. Now that the high speed rail project is no longer an imminent threat, we will continue to broaden the web site’s focus to more generally include other related aspects of quality of life.

Footnotes:

1. Needless to say, there is very little chance the state will suddenly become flush with cash and able to afford working on Phase I as well as the L.A. to San Diego line at the same time. The state only has a small amount of overall funding for Phase I of the high speed rail project. Phase I is estimated by the Rail Authority at $43 billion. Other estimates peg the costs at closer to $76 billion. Currently, the Rail Authority has about $13 billion.

2. “[T]ravel lanes depending upon the type of highway can vary from 10 [feet] to 15 [feet].” A 50 foot right of way will take 5 ten foot lanes, while it will take 3 and a 1/3 fifteen foot lanes.  Caltrans: How wide are freeway lanes.

Upcoming Meeting: Alhambra Bike Plan

Plan to attend next Wednesday’s Alhambra Transportation Commission meeting in City Hall. The West San Gabriel Valley and L.A. County Bike Coalitions will present to the Transportation Commission about how to make Alhambra bicycle friendly.

From the West San Gabriel Valley Bicycle Coalition:

Alhambra Transportation Commission Presentation – July 13, 7pm

LACBC/WSGVBC will be making a presentation to Alhambra’s Transportation Commission next Wednesday July 13th (7pm). The presentation will cover:
Introduction of who we are/what we do
* Why being bike friendly matters, inc. benefits to public safety/health, community livability
* Vision – imagine a more walk & bike-able Alhambra
* Funding sources for making a more walk & bike-able Alhambra
* For anyone interested in attending, especially local residents, the meeting will be held in Council Chambers at Alhambra City Hall. Supporters will meet at 6:45pm in the atrium.

Calling volunteers! Help inform El Monte.

Calling volunteers! Help inform El Monte residents that the Rail Authority plans to cut through residential neighborhoods of their city and take a large swath of homes in the process. Residents were notified about meetings but not told why it is important to attend the meetings. The goal is to make sure people can speak up now to voice their concerns while there is time.

Join a small group passing out flyers in the affected neighborhoods this coming Saturday morning. If you want to get involved, call Bruce & Sylvia: (626) 280-7225. If you can’t make it on Saturday, tell folks you know in El Monte and give them the following flyer. It is two sided. One side has information intended to get people to the meetings the second side has a map. (Google Docs)(PDF)


The map in the flyer is a reproduction of the map provided by the Rail Authority in its Preliminary Alternative Analysis report for the Los Angeles to San Diego high speed rail line (pg 3-47 | pg. 70 in the PDF).
el monte station

Here is a better shot of the reproduction for your computer. This map overlay shows (1) 1,000 foot long set of 4 tracks and platform (dark green); and (2) 6,000 feet of additional 4 tracks to allow express trains to bypass the station (purple). If a station is not in El Monte, then only two sets of tracks will be built. The area to the right of the proposed El Monte train station is a residential neighborhood, as indicated on the map on the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report
El Monte2

Meeting Announcements: Several upcoming meetings in Alhambra, San Gabriel, and elsewhere

The California High Speed Rail Authority scheduled 16 community meetings about its high speed rail project over the next 6 weeks throughout the local area. More meetings are scheduled for the Inland Empire and San Diego area.

The Alhambra meeting is scheduled for June 23 but you do not need to wait that long to find out more information about the project. Feel free to attend any of the meetings and ask questions. Meetings will be held in El Monte on May 25, San Gabriel on May 31, in and Downtown LA on June 1.

Note: We will find out on Monday whether the governor’s revised budget provides any funds for the L.A. to San Diego segment of the high speed rail project. If not, we need to expect that these will be the last meetings for a few years. The original state budget contained no money for the segment of the high speed rail project through the San Gabriel Valley but does fund other segments of the high speed rail project.

I added all meetings within a relatively easy drive to my Google Calendar, listed below. Click to see more information:


Folks along the route were mailed the following flyer, also with all the dates and locations listed:
(Google Docs) | (PDF)



High Speed Rail Preliminary Alternatives Report for L.A. to San Diego — now available (part 2)

The Rail Authority published the Preliminary Alternatives Report for its proposed L.A. to San Diego line. Previously, it had announced that the report was ready but did not actually post it. I have not read it yet but intend to read it tomorrow and post an analysis on Wednesday. The Rail Authority Board will meet on Thursday in downtown L.A. to discuss and approve the report.

UPDATE: The report says exactly what we already expected. The routes along the I-10 freeway and SR-60 will continue to be studied, while the routes that use and run adjacent to the Union Pacific railroad are withdrawn and will not be studied. See: Routes to be dropped, 75 foot high viaducts, and budget woes

Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report:

Use the controls to zoom or go to Google Docs to view. The most relevant section to Alhambra and its neighboring cities starts on page 34 of 122, then again on page 83 of 122, and finally 104 of 122.


Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report

The California High Speed Rail Authority sent out an email tonight announcing to its mailing list that the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report is ready. It provided links to the cover letter for the report and executive summary, both embedded below. I will add the report once I get it. The Rail Authority web site currently does not link any of the three documents.

Cover Letter:



Executive Summary:

Use the controls to zoom or go to Google Docs to view.


Announcement Email

——– Forwarded Message ——–
From: CA High-Speed Rail: Southern California LA-SD <los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov>
Reply-to: “CA High-Speed Rail: Southern California LA-SD” <los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov>
Subject: CA High-Speed Rail: Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report Available Now!
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2011 21:00:50 -0600

Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the

Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire Section

Now Available

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has released the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire (LA-SD) High Speed Rail Project.

The March 3, 2011 CHSRA Board meeting will be in Los Angeles and interested parties are invited to participate in the first public presentation of the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report on the HST Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire section.

The CHSRA Board is expected to approve the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report with potentially additional recommendations, recognizing that further outreach efforts will continue as these preliminary recommendations are refined. Following the March 3 Board meeting, another series of open house meetings aimed at gathering input from local cities and communities on the project alternatives will commence this spring.

Click the link below to view the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire section:

Community Meetings
A series of community open house meetings will be planned in the spring of 2011. More details on these meetings will be available shortly.

Board Meeting Details

When: Thursday, March 3, 2011, 9:00 a.m., Board Agenda

Where: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)
One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Board Room, 3rd Floor
Adjacent to LA Union Station and Patsaouras Plaza (map)

Online: Can’t attend in person? Watch the Board meeting live online through USTREAM. Visit http://bit.ly/htDWS4

877 411 7230 • los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov

www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov