Thursday, October 28, 2010

Breakin' the law and proud of it!

One would think that those about to break the law would be discrete about it, but when law enforcement and municipal authorities get busy abusing rules and violating rights, some of them do it with bravado and confidence, announcing their actions with confidence.

The City of Los Angeles recently released a flyer and an accompanying email that informs the public "No bicyclists allowed within the construction zone along PCH" which violates the California Vehicle Code and the Caltrans standard for access and accommodation. It is incumbent on the City of LA to provide for all modes and taking one group off the street is not a solution, no matter how well-intentioned. It demonstrates that those in charge are either cavalier or uninformed. Either way, it's not only illegal, it's unsafe and the variable K-Rail traffic plan is a tragedy waiting to happen.

The City of Malibu takes a different approach to breaking the law, allowing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD), which is responsible for PCH through the City of Malibu, to enforce laws that don't exist. In response to a complaint that cyclists were not riding single file (not required to, no such law) the LASD incorrectly advised the City Manager that riding side-by-side was illegal. In response to a complaint that cyclists weren't riding on the shoulder (not required to, no such law) the LASD incorrectly advised the City Manager that cyclists are required to use the shoulder when one exists. This novel approach to law enforcement has further exacerbated an already tense environment by adding confusion and misinformation to the mix.

The City of Santa Monica has a unique style for breaking the law, taking valid laws and then cranking them up to the point of absurdity. Santa Monica, as permitted by state law, cites cyclists for not having bike licenses. But then Santa Monica goes on to exceed their authority by requiring anyone riding through the city to obtain a permit (state law limits bike license requirements to residents) and then applies a penalty that exceeds the state mandated $10 maximum with a threat of six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.

The City of Thousand Oaks finds California Vehicle Code very confusing and gets highways and roadways mixed up, applying both inappropriate and fictional standards to cyclists who ride bikes "the wrong way" on sidewalks, explaining that cyclists must ride to the right of vehicular traffic traveling in the same direction. (sidewalks are non-directional) The penalty for this offense is $180.

The City of Los Altos Hills is one of the proudest offenders, they actually took paint to the street and wrote "No Bikes" in very large letters on El Monte Road, a popular cycling route. To their credit, Los Altos Hills quickly reversed their ways and removed all the offending paint, disappointing the cyclist who pointed out that simply removing the "NO" would leave a nice affirmative on the streets.

The City of Pasadena chose the public hearing process as the venue of choice for their assault on the law, scheduling not one but two readings of their proposed restriction on cyclists, all as a result of congestion and conflict at the Rose Bowl. Invoking the non-existent rights of a municipality to restrict cyclists from riding side-by-side, the City Council twice weathered the storm of public outrage that ran into the late night hours before conceding defeat.

The City of Burbank adds a stern touch to the Chandler Bikeway with their "Walk Bike" signage at crossings, enforcing a non-existent law with white rectangular regulatory authority. While their stated intention is "safety" for the cyclists, perhaps it would be safer for all concerned if the motorists were instructed to exit their vehicles and push them through the intersection. Meanwhile, the conflict on the Chandler Bikeway can be found...on the path.

The City of Los Angeles took note of Burbank's misuse of regulatory signage and ordered yellow advisory "Walk Bike in Crosswalk" signage that they posted on Jefferson Avenue outside USC, apparently in an effort to support the estimated 15,000 cyclists who ride to school. While good advice is always appreciated, this advice is hardly good and it comes with the threat of a $250 ticket for violating a warning! The LADOT installed the signs and the LAPD supported the effort by working with USC's Department of Public Safety to enforce the mythological law. This dubious partnership has resulted in an empowered DPS which now operates with an inflated perception of their legal authority, to the dismay of those who know the law.

The City of Los Angeles is no stranger to the controversy over cyclists riding in the crosswalk. Last year a cyclist rode across the street in a crosswalk in a residential community, only to be struck by a right turning DWP truck and killed. The LAPD determined that the cyclist was the "primary cause" of the incident because "she was riding a bike in a crosswalk in violation of CVC 21200 which requires a cyclist to obey the rules of the road." the LAPD PIO went on to explain that "Cyclists must either dismount at crosswalks or ride on the right side of the road with traffic." The City Attorney's office continues to support this position, even when contradicted by CVC 21650. Meanwhile, the City of LA and the Metro continue to build bike paths such as the Orange Line that take cyclists across intersections in crosswalks.

The City of Los Angeles is in good company when it comes to misunderstanding crosswalks. Conor Lynch was recently killed while crossing the street midblock. The LAPD was quoted by the LA Times in pointing out that Conor was not crossing the street in a crosswalk. This may have been true, but it reflects a misconception that midblock crossings are "jaywalking" violations but they're not. Streets are for crossing unless between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic signal devices or law enforcement.

The City of Long Beach went beyond inappropriate flyers and signage, selecting YouTube as the appropriate venue for a demonstration of their creative law enforcement strategies. Some might cringe when hearing the LBPD Officer state "You know what, because you’re argumentative, I’m gonna give you another ticket. And then you can fight two tickets." A punitive ticket, clearly explained by the offending law enforcement officer!

The LBPD officer sets the tone for the interaction by informing the cyclist "You were impeding my traffic." In doing so he clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of CVC 21656 "On a two-lane highway...a slow-moving vehicle...behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway..."

The LBPD officer goes on to misquote the law, telling the cyclist that the California Vehicle Code says "‘bicyclists must ride to the right side of the road." It doesn't. CVC 21654 says "...any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb... "Or" is a mighty big word.

Cyclists in the LA Area are acutely aware that the legal landscape is quite uneven. Different agencies, authorities, and departments vary greatly in their interpretation of the law and their enforcement strategies. LA County is home to 88 municipalities and the number of different law enforcement authorities is quite large. Within the City of Los Angeles, a cyclist may encounter officers from departments that include CHP Troopers, State Park Rangers, County Sheriffs, Harbor Police Airport Police, School Police, Library Police, General Services Police, City Park Rangers, and of course, the Los Angeles Police Department. Collectively, they enforce the law. Individually, they operate according to their own priorities and interpretations.

This is why the cyclists of LA need the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, a document that starts the conversation affirmatively, with a foundation of rights that are already codified in the constitution, the CVC, departmental directives, policies, and municipal codes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Crosswalks

CityWatch, Oct 26, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 85

This past week the paths of two teenagers tragically crossed when sixteen-year-old Conor Lynch attempted to run across Woodman Avenue where he was hit and killed by a car driven by an eighteen-year-old motorist who then fled the scene.

The LA Times ran a brief article that included a quote from the LAPD indicating that Conor "was jogging across Woodman Avenue midblock and not at a crosswalk." This simple statement set off a flurry of reader comments that demonstrates the mythology of crosswalks and the subjective nature of transportation engineering.

The readers can be divided into two camps; those who empathized with the motorist and those who empathized with the pedestrian. To be sure, it was evident that all agreed that the events were tragic all around but the blame was frequently assigned to one or the other party based on understandings or misunderstandings of the law regulating the simple crossing of a street.

Some readers saw the jaywalking as indicative of fault, commenting "If it is true that Conor was jaywalking then it was his fault and I feel really bad for Moran."

Others saw the motorist's behavior as the cause, commenting "People drive too fast in the rain and careless all day and night in Los Angeles."

The details of the incident are still under investigation but it is apparent that attitudes and opinions vary widely on the rules of the road, the definition of jaywalking and the efficacy of crosswalks.

Rules of the Road: Pedestrians are permitted to cross the street mid-block. The exception is in locations that are between intersections that are controlled by traffic control signal devices or law enforcement officers.

Obviously, it's never a good idea to step out into the street without checking for traffic, but the notion that mid-block crossings are illegal is simply incorrect. Streets are for crossing, at the intersections in marked crosswalks, at the intersections in unmarked crosswalks, and also in between if the adjacent intersections aren't traffic signal controlled. In other words, the standard is: our streets are crossable unless restricted.

Definition of Jaywalking: Some people refer to pedestrians who cross the street against a red light "Jaywalkers" while others use the term for those who cross the street outside a crosswalk.

Either way, it is simply a "nickname" that is not codified in our vehicle code or municipal code and is actually an antiquated term of derision. 90 years ago, a "jay" was a hayseed who didn't understand the ways of the city, typically accustomed to cutting across fields and village lots.

As for the definition of jaywalking, it's vague and varies, and is about as useful as a discussion of jaydriving. In other words, it reinforces attitudes without clarifying the rules of the road.

Efficacy of Crosswalks: The City of Los Angeles has long been engaged in a debate over crosswalks and their usefulness, resulting in the see-saw battle that sees some advocating for the addition of more crosswalks while the LADOT looks for opportunities to remove crosswalks.

A visit to the City Council's Transportation Committee will yield a wealth of transportation mythology that supports increase of speed limits and addresses the dangers of crosswalks with the explanation that "Crosswalks give pedestrians a false sense of security."

This phrase has been repeated by transportation engineers and then parroted by councilmembers for so long that it has become accepted as the truth and serves as the core bias that supports the current campaign to increase speed limits, widen streets, and remove crosswalks.

The "false sense of security" theory can be traced back to the 1972 "Herms Study" which included a bit of unfortunate speculation that has taken on a life of its own.

When Herms discovered that there were more pedestrians struck (per person crossing) at marked crosswalks than at unmarked crosswalks, he failed to account for the fact that the crosswalks are typically installed where pedestrian/vehicle conflicts are an issue.

That unfortunate open question has been misinterpreted to the point of absurdity, motivating an entire generation of traffic engineers to dedicate their careers to removing marked crosswalks and failing to provide new ones, all in the misguided belief that they are dangerous and that pedestrians are better served on unmarked crosswalks.

Our councilmembers are quick to reject community pleas for safer streets by stating authoritatively "Our studies show that there are more injuries to pedestrians when there is a crosswalk than when there is no crosswalk. You see, crosswalks give pedestrians a false sense of security." This is typically followed by a "yea" vote on speed limit increases and street widenings.

At issue is the simple fact that our streets are dangerous, not just for pedestrians, but for everybody.

As speed limits increase, motorists have less time to react to pedestrians and require more distance to stop.

Last year the LAPD conducted a pedestrian sting on Reseda Blvd.

An LAPD officer in plain clothes would cross the street in the crosswalk and motorcycle officers waiting on the side streets would cite motorists who failed to yield to the pedestrian. The LAPD couldn't keep up with the violators.

The unfortunate thing about this sting is that many motorists were traveling under the speed limit but they didn't have the reaction time or the stopping distance necessary to make a safe stop before the crosswalk.

Watching a City of LA vehicle skid to a stop, it was apparent that this street was engineered for conflict.

It's evident that the rules of the road are widely misinterpreted by the general public, typically reinforcing our particular perspective or bias.

The term "jaywalker" is often used but rarely understood, further perpetuating misunderstandings between motorists and pedestrians.

Of greatest concern is the fact that our streets have become politicized, with traffic control decisions being made by people who simply repeat old fallacies in support of the current paradigm of traffic control and the resulting engineered conflict.

The tragic death of Conor Lynch has stirred a debate in our community over how the streets should work and how pedestrians and motorists can both find their place in the mix. It's a worthy conversation and the simplest way to honor Conor is to seize this moment and to work together to make our streets safer for everybody.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hollywood Bike HUB at Hollywood & Vine

Fly-through video rendering by Jeremy Grant

Hollywood & Vine's "Hollywood Bike HUB" is on its way to the Metro Board for final approval, having just picked up an endorsement from the Metro's Planning & Programming Committee along with a recommendation that it serve as a "demonstration project" in the establishment of transit oriented development (TOD) standards.

The Hollywood Bike HUB is a bike shop for locals where cyclists can work on their bikes as well as store them in a secured environment. The Bike HUB would also offer a Bike Share for residents and a Bike Rental for tourists. In addition, the Bike HUB would serve as a Visitor's Center for tourists who simply need info on the neighborhood. The Hollywood Bike HUB is good for cyclists, good for residents, good for tourists, good for business and great for transit, offering Metro passengers a "last mile" option.

One would think that bike storage would be a basic for Metro transit hubs, especially when surrounded by TOD but such was not the case at Hollywood & Vine.

The Hollywood Bike HUB journey began earlier this year, about the time that we should have been celebrating the centenary of the Hollywood & Vine crossroads. Instead, all eyes were on the ribbon cutting at the W Hollywood's four acres of TOD, representing the collective machinations of the City of Los Angeles, the CRA, the Metro, and the Developers, and two-thirds of a billion dollars in funding from sources that included ARRA, Calpers, and the CRA.

The W Hollywood, from the hotel to the condominiums to the apartments, claims to channel the Hollywood spirit, connecting to Hollywood's heyday and "infusing it with the contemporary innovation, energy, elegance, and excitement" of the W experience. Metro officials positioned the integrated Hollywood & Vine Red Line station as a "flagship transit HUB," one that sets a standard for multi-modal connectivity.

None of this resonated with the pedestrians and cyclists who noted that the promised intersection improvements failed to materialize, that the promised bike-share and car-share facilities failed to happen, that the public space was surrounded by fortress walls of exclusivity, and that cyclists were obviously an afterthought as evidenced by the lack of bike racks or bike storage.

I spoke up and pointed out that waiting until after the ribbon cutting to ask "Where do the cyclists fit?" is hardly a demonstration of a multi-modal commitment. While the issue of bike parking facilities at Hollywood & Vine was the immediate challenge, the larger problem was the simple fact that TOD projects are being built throughout the county, (35 underway, 17 more on paper) and yet there are no Metro TOD standards in place. Developers qualify for funding based on their promises of TOD facilities, improving their position by writing "public benefit" into their proposal, yet without standards in place, it's a soft claim with little meaning. Hollywood & Vine proves the point.

While advocating for TOD standards, I proposed several locations for the Hollywood Bike HUB, a bike facility where people could not only safely park their bikes, but also rent bikes, get minor repairs done, and buy bike accessories, such as lights, patch kits, pump, etc. to make their commute more convenient, comfortable, and safe.

Over the past year, I've been joined by Enci of illuminateLA, Ron Durgin of Sustainable Streets, Glenn Bailey of the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee, Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition and Jeremy Grant of the LA Bike Working Group. The struggle to incorporate robust bicycle facilities at the Hollywood & Vine station took us on a journey that included meetings with Metro staff, the developers, the tenants, the Sheriff's Department, the CRA, the City Council, the LADOT, and anyone else with a finger in the pie.

Ultimately, it was the Deputy Mayor Jaime de la Vega and Metro Boardmember Richard Katz who embraced the vision of the Hollywood Bike HUB and the notion that TOD standards should drive the development process, not simply be added as a garnish at the ribbon cutting.

To that end, Jeremy Grant developed the Hollywood Bike HUB renderings that went to the Metro Board this past week and the Planning and Programming Committee approved the Hollywood Bike HUB concept, sending it to the full Board this Thursday morning for final approval.

Boardmember Katz added the following language to the Hollywood Bike HUB motion:

"Direct staff to develop the Hollywood Bike HUB as a demonstration project, engaging the public and using the process to develop robust TOD standards that provide systemic commitments to pedestrians, cyclists, open space, connectivity, accessibility, and community benefit."

The Hollywood Bike HUB is located on the east side of Vine Avenue, just south of Hollywood Boulevard. With over a thousand square feet of interior space, the HUB is a commitment to connectivity, literally and figuratively. Guests will have access to showers, lockers, activated public space, and local information services, all as elements of the HUB's commitment to connectivity.

The intersection of Hollywood & Vine was born 100 years ago when the City of Los Angeles annexed Hollywood, renamed its streets, and ushered in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Griffith, Pickford and Sennett came to town. Radio Stations proudly announced "Broadcasting live from Hollywood & Vine!" Record labels and production companies commissioned architects such as Schindler, Neutra, and Naidorf/Becket. Charlie Chaplin and Will Rogers kept offices in the Taft Building along with neighbors such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The intersection grew to become one of the busiest in the city and one of the most famous in the world.

Hollywood & Vine has seen the glamor days of Clara Bow's It Cafe, the Brown Derby and Sardi's. It has also seen tough times with businesses closing, buildings falling into disrepair, sidewalks cracking and crowds toughening. Through it all, it has maintained its status as the center of Hollywood, crossroads of hopes and dreams for people from around the world.

I believe that the crowd-sourced solutions that brought the Hollywood Bike HUB to the Metro Board are an example of all that is great about Hollywood and evidence that Hollywood is reclaiming its title as the center of the creative universe.

Friday, October 22, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA: A Complaint Driven City

CityWatch, Oct 22, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 84

What a difference a complaint makes! Actually, it took a series of relentless complaints, but the dormant City of LA excavation site on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard has been "tidied" and there seems to be some DWP activity, giving hope that someday soon the site will return to normal.

To recap, the City of LA took a sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard out of compliance, left it in a dangerous state, and then debated departmental responsibility to the point of absurdity. Eventually, the DWP showed up and is now the proud owner of an excavation pit on the most famous boulevard in the world. (See video)

This simple exercise in frustration bears witness to the brutal fact that the people of Los Angeles live in a complaint-driven city, not a standards-driven city. This approach to the delivery of services and enforcement of standards is beyond inefficient, it's frustrating, it's divisive, and it wastes valuable assets. Most of all, it simply doesn't work.

1) Not everybody knows how to complain. City Hall has designed the process so that simply calling attention to "a big messy hole in the sidewalk" requires patience, fortitude, and an insider's knowledge of the many departments that have some authority over the streets of LA.

To take it further, participation in a City Hall Committee, Commission, or City Council meeting is limited to those proficient at navigating the agenda, the rules, and the process.

Even then, public comment gets limited to 60 seconds, items go forward without comment because the opportunity took place in another meeting, the agenda is rearranged, and City Hall continues to turn gold into straw.

2) Not everybody has the time and energy to complain. Today's call to 311 took two attempts, the first one reached an overloaded system and the second resulted in a journey that lasted 42 minutes. All to get back to the beginning.

A trip to City Hall can consume a day. A bit of prep, some travel time, navigate the Committee, Commission, Council schedule, wait for the agenda to advance, jockey for that magic moment when the public gets to speak to an audience who is transparent in their collective desire to scream "Next!" and then the long journey home, only to find that nothing has changed.

3) Not everybody can overcome the obstacles. Well meaning people care about their communities but they give up, simply to survive and because the cost of overcoming the obstacles is too great.

City Hall is a system that responds to complaints but then the leaders of our city disqualify people for complaining.

It's a system that requires the participants to fight, to complain, to increase the volume in order to increase the delivery of services which are delivered until the murmuring goes down and then they stop.

It's demoralizing and even the hardiest quit and withdraw. This is the cycle that takes our neighborhoods down, allowing for the decline that in turn prompts more complaints. It's a declining cycle and nobody wins.

4) Those who are elected to complain on our behalf spend the best part of their time (99.93%) being agreeable, and when it's their turn to stand up on our behalf, they turn their backs on the people they are supposed to serve.

When AB766, the Safe Streets Bill, was in the Assembly, I was there to support it. The City of LA had staff in the room but they were silent.

When AB 2531, the Kelo legitimizing bill, worked its way through the process, the City of LA did nothing to protect the people of LA. The bill was eventually vetoed by the Governor while those who purportedly represent the people of LA went back to the Kelo drawing board.

Does the public have to be excellent at navigating the system while the professionals are forgiven for their mediocrity? Apparently so, because time after time the public is disqualified from the process for coloring outside the lines while those in office work aggressively to work around the Brown Act, to complicate the public process, and to design a bureaucratic labyrinth so complicated, even the staff get lost. It's an insider's game and the public is excluded. Make some noise, get a pothole filled, now go away.

All of which begs the question, what's the alternative?

The National League of Cities (NLC) recognizes cities with outstanding programs that improve quality of life with Awards for Municipal Excellence. Among the 45 programs that were highlighted during 2010 was the Neighborhood Code Compliance Program (NCCP) which was created in response to a community call for a shift from a a complaint-driven process to a pro-active process.

The NCCP was credited with replacing the tension and conflict of a complaint-driven code enforcement process with a positive partnership with the community that encouraged "ownership responsibility, volunteerism, and confidence in the city."

Communities around the country are embracing the efficiency of a standards-driven operating style that embraces a systemic commitment to the delivery of city services. Successful programs vary widely in structure but they have one thing in common, they all treat the residents as partners, not as noisy rabble in need of a Toastmasters Class and a lecture on process.

If the City of Los Angeles is to take its place as a Great City, it will be as the result of embracing a standards-drive approach to the delivery of city services.

LA will move forward when it embraces the public as partners in improving the quality of life in the neighborhood. Most of all it will operate efficiently and effectively when it works for the people, not against them.

As for City Hall, it could use a concierge. Embracing the service model instead of the fortress model would mean that the public would be welcomed, offered assistance even if they ask incorrectly or haven't read the rulebook.

As for Hollywood Boulevard, the site has been tidied up and one might argue that it was now ADA compliant. Of course the recent rain turned the dirt into mud but for now, it's very tidy mud.

It's progress. I'll take it. But we've got a long way to go!

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA: A City at War with Itself

CityWatch, Oct 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 83

When departments within the City of Los Angeles fight with each other, their warlords take the struggle for turf into local neighborhoods and the streets of LA become battlefields where quality of life is written off as collateral damage. The casualties are the residents and business operators, because city attorneys work overtime to minimize departmental liabilities. On battle scarred Hollywood Blvd., locals navigate this eight foot excavation pit that bears witness to the no-man’s land that separates city departments from collective accountability and the responsible delivery of city services.

Weeks have gone by and the pit sits as a quiet reminder that the City of LA can take a sidewalk out of compliance and then simply drive away, violating its own standards and demonstrating the need for greater connectivity at City Hall.

The pit's origins lie in the Fire Department's construction of Regional Fire Station #82, a 32K square foot facility funded with $30 million of Prop F money that is 18 months post-groundbreaking.

The effort is administered by the Department of Public Works and involves Contract Administration, Engineering, Planning, General Services, Transportation, Street Lighting, Street Services, and a host of Contractors and Sub-Contractors.

A simple boring project by sub-contractors in order to install a Fire Department traffic control override system resulted in the discovery of lead covered conduit of unknown origin. By law, contractors notify the DWP upon discovery. The DWP then takes control of the site to determine what's underground and who the owner is.

The DWP excavated, they deliberated, and they evacuated. They left behind a plywood covered pit, crumbling asphalt, a berm of dirt and cement debris, and the obligatory misplaced DWP barricades and caution tape. Weeks have gone by.

A city official described working with the DWP by comparing it to the Roman Army. "Decentalized command with autonomous Generals running their own battalions, you can't rely on rules and code, you have to negotiate with each commander."

While private contractors are limited from street work during peak hours, from haul routes without authorization, and from street closure without permit, the DWP is charged with operating to their own authority.

In situations such as this, contractors and sub-contractors are prevented from completing their work, setting them up for claims against the city for the additional cost of pulling crews off jobs and standing by while the city of LA appears on Family Feud.

The irony of the departmental liability battle is that each department is represented by diplomatic forces that come from the City Attorney's office. While it's unclear whether the attorneys consider the City of LA or the specific department to be their client, it's abundantly clear that they do not serve the people who live and work in LA: A city under siege.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - Three wishes for LA's Budget Summit

Photo by Enci
CityWatch, Oct 15, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 82

From three legged stools that don't wobble to thrice braided cords that won't break, we're surrounded by examples of the wisdom of embracing solutions that include three components and tomorrow's Community Budget Summit is the perfect opportunity. The City of Los Angeles has been embroiled in an escalating budget crisis for years, typically prompting three responses from the community:

• Fierce defenders of specific programs storm City Hall to defend libraries or cultural affairs or parks or any of the many threatened city services that the City Council puts up on the "budget dust" chopping block as a token sacrifice toward a balanced budget.
• Big picture advocates argue for systemic solutions that range from long-term budget commitments to revised pension strategies to the implementation of greater efficiencies and accountability to a complete overhaul of City Hall.
• Optimists who step out of the way and avoid the drama, joining the Mayor and the City Council in kicking the budget crisis down the road, confident that a sinking ship will eventually right itself.

Neighborhood Councils have an opportunity, actually an obligation according to the City Charter, to weigh in on the 2010-2011 City Budget, and to work together to advise the Mayor and the City Council on LA's budget commitments, the delivery of city services, and the generation of revenue.

The budget journey is long and complicated, but if the community wants to have an impact, it needs to start now, not during next year's budget hearings when there is nothing left but triage.

Here are three significant strategies for moving forward with a City Budget that is balanced, that supports a Great City commitment and that delivers City Services fairly, equitably, and responsibly:

• Collect the revenue! The Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE) just released its Blueprint for Reform of City Collections, complete with 65 specific recommendations for ensuring that the taxpayers of Los Angeles get their money's worth and that the residents and businesses of LA get a City that Works.

CORE focused on the hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that go uncollected, simply because of inefficiencies in revenue collections, tax compliance, accounts receivable collections, new revenues, centralized billing, and implementation of the City Controller's audit of collection practices.

• Implement performance standards, operating efficiencies, and an environment of accountability! CORE set the standard for community engagement and pursuit of a creative solution and the next opportunity is to evaluate the simple City Hall machine and the tremendous redundancy that requires a half dozen departments to engage in the process of crossing the street safely.

Departments currently compete against each other, performance is not evaluated from the perspective of the community, the silo operating style bleeds money and limits the delivery of City Services.

• Connect with funding sources at the Federal, State, and County levels, moving the income target off the residents and businesses.

The current paradigm for revenue enhancement is to layer increasingly higher fees and penalties on top of existing taxes and licenses, charging the people of LA more for less.

Meanwhile, surrounding communities such as Long Beach and Glendale go to the same funding sources and come back with significantly higher funding awards while the City of LA fumbles.

The people of LA must speak up and demand an integrated funding strategy that stops LA's departments from competing with each other and from breaking the financial backs of the public.

LA's City Charter mandates that Neighborhood Councils advise City Hall, that they promote the civic engagement process, that they monitor the delivery of City Services, and that they engage in the development of the Mayor's Budget.

Saturday’s Community Budget Day is an opportunity for Neighborhood Councils to accomplish the entire City Charter mandate, all in one day!

The Budget Day is open to the public and offers an opportunity to mingle with the CORE members, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, the Mayor's Budget team, and neighborhood council representatives from all over the City of LA.

This is the beginning of a 2010-2011 City Budget journey that is based on solid revenue sourcing and collection, that serves as the blueprint for a City that Works, and that supports a Great City commitment to the delivery of City Services.

Mayor’s Community Budget Day
Saturday, October 16, 2010
City Hall
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

7:30 AM Registration
8:30 AM Opening Remarks
9:00 AM Mayor's Welcome Speech
9:30 AM Budget Presentation
10:00 AM Regional Break Out Sessions
11:45 AM Conclusion

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA's CicLAvia Opens Streets to People

Mayor Villaraigosa riding
his bike at CicLAvia
CityWatch, Oct 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 81

"Happy Sunday!" was the greeting on the streets of Los Angeles as tens of thousands of Angelenos walked, jogged, rollerbladed, skateboarded, cycled and dodgeballed their way along the 7.5 miles of streets opened to people for LA's inaugural CicLAvia.

LA is no stranger to special events but CicLAvia was unique in many ways. The purpose was simple, to open the streets, providing people with an opportunity to create community and move freely. They did, in ways unexpected and in numbers that exceeded expectations. They greeted each other, they stopped to socialize, they paused to participate in activities along the route, they ate food from local vendors, they smiled and they filled the air with the sound of conversations, greetings and cheers of approval.

Ciclovía originated in Bogotá, Columbia and they now take place around the world, typically on Sunday and featuring car-free streets and great accessible public space for activities that range from yoga and theatre to music and aerobics.

Bogotá's Jaime Ortiz, creator of the Ciclovía concept, rode alongside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on a ride that started in Boyle Heights and headed to City Hall. This was the Mayor's first time on a bike since his tumble in the Bike Lane on Venice Blvd … an incident that has stirred significant conversations about how our street work and where people walk, ride or simply hang out.

Along the route, Brazilian Capoeira fans took over Central Ave., outdoor Yoga mellowed the crowd on 1st Street, a Comedian worked the crowd on Spring Street, the East Side Bike Club previewed Día de los Muertos, CrossFit Mean Streets turned Main Street into an outdoor gym, the Eagle Rock Yacht Club hosted a Dodgeball tournament and Chalk4Peace turned 7th Street into a mile of public participant art.

The LA Times estimated the attendance at 100,000 while other media estimated a more conservative 50,000. Either way, it appears that participants showed up in huge, happy, conflict-free numbers that exceeded the Mayor's anticipated crowd of 35,000 and demonstrated that the streets of LA really are for people.

The CicLAvia route went from Boyle Heights to East Hollywood, favoring park-poor communities, areas with merchants who would benefit from the crowds, streets that were pothole-free, and major routes that would not disrupt local residential neighborhoods. The "street-opening" strategy was modified from typical event street closure protocol, incorporating 14 "crossing" at key locations. Vast sections of street were car-free while motorists still had opportunities to pass through, eliminating the traditional confusion and frustration that often comes with major events.

LA's CicLAvia took a couple of years of planning, requiring the concerted efforts of advocates, event planners, engineers, and community organizers along with LA's Transportation, Sanitation, Street Services, and Police Departments.

Once the Mayor's team got behind it, CicLAvia moved forward, strategies were refined, streets were repaired, wayfinding was designed and volunteers were trained.

CicLAvia organizers say that the tremendous success of LA's inaugural event provides momentum that will assist in their goal to host CicLAvias every two months in 2011, every month in 2012, and eventually bringing CicLAvia to the streets of LA every Sunday.

CicLAvia Boardmember Stephen Villavaso summed up his take on the event saying "We presented the pilot project to thousands of smiling faces on people who came from all over the city to enjoy the streets of a wide variety of neighborhoods. Most of all, we had huge amounts of interaction on the streets with barriers taken down and we created a common shared experience."

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

CityWatchLA - Wilbur Ave Bike Lane Brouhaha an LADOT Conspiracy?

CityWatch, Oct 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 81

"I used to believe in conspiracies, until I discovered incompetence." -Former L.A. councilwoman Ruth Galanter

A simple Bureau of Street Services (BOSS) resurfacing project on the Valley's Wilbur Avenue and a Department of Transportation (LADOT) "road diet" have kicked the proverbial hornet's nest, resulting in a clash of cultures that continues to escalate, drawing both CD12's Councilman Smith and LADOT's departing GM Rita Robinson into the fracas. Nine months ago, the BOSS notified local agencies and utilities that Wilbur Avenue, between Devonshire and Chatsworth, was scheduled for a facelift. After allowing six months to pass, ensuring that there are no construction conflicts, the BOSS went to work performing a street improvement that typically brings cheers from the community.

The Department of Transportation, which has three sections engaged in the business of designing street plans, (only two of them subscribe to the BOSS notifications!) jumped on the street resurfacing opportunity and implemented a "road diet." Wilbur went from two lanes in both directions to one lane in each direction, a left turn lane, and bike lanes on both sides.

All this took place quietly. No outreach, no coordination between the LADOT and the neighborhood councils or the CD12 council office or the cycling community or the local PTA or the local NASCAR chapter. No coordination took place between the LADOT's Operations, Geometrics, and Bikeways divisions. Nobody notified the City of LA's Bicycle Advisory Committee. Nada!

The LADOT argues that they simply took advantage of an opportunity to engage in a "road diet" and to add bike lanes and that they should be congratulated, not criticized. "After all," says LADOT's Assistant GM John Fisher, "the 1996 Bike Plan calls for bike lanes on Wilbur Avenue and we had a very small amount of time to design and implement a new striping plan. We had no time for outreach."

Conspiracy theorists tend look at situations such as this and wonder if the LADOT simply dropped bike lanes onto Wilbur as part of an engineered conflict strategy, killing any hope of a bikeway network, resulting in an "I told you they don't fit!" declaration and allowing a return to "business as usual."

Realists, like Galanter, will look at this situation and simply chalk it up to incompetence.

1) LADOT Incompetence: Wilbur Avenue has been designated for Bike Lanes since '96 and yet the LADOT Bikeways division never developed a striping plan. 14 years is a long time and yet the LADOT claims they had no time for outreach because the resurfacing work was a surprise to them.

DOT Operations subscribes to the BOSS resurfacing notification yet DOT Bikeways doesn't. The simplest and cheapest way to introduce bikeways facilities to the streets of LA is to work cooperatively with other departments.

2) Outreach Incompetence: The LADOT has a Bikeways Project Coordinator who somehow has the time to travel, from Sacramento and Chattanooga, giving presentations on facilities that don't exist in the City of Los Angeles.

It would seem that the highest priority would be on coordinating the divisions within the LADOT, the LADOT with other city departments, and the City of LA with the people who actually walk, ride bikes, take mass transit and drive the streets.

Most importantly, it would seem that coordinating transportation issues with the people of Los Angeles would be a priority but, based on results, such was not the case.

For all of the billion dollar transportation solutions on the horizon, the simplest opportunity for the people of LA to improve access and mobility is to focus on "human infrastructure," information and education that results in small behavioral shifts, all adding up to safer streets, greater communication and cooperation, and enhanced effectiveness for all modes.

The Wilbur Avenue incident is the epitome of arrogance, imposing a solution on the community without input and then framing the situation as a win-lose proposal.

It created a situation that consumed incredible amounts of energy and time, not from the folks who are on the clock, but from the community, all because the LADOT is evidently incapable or unwilling to simply engage the community in the solution.

"Road diets" are not new and the notion that moderate speeds increase capacity and through-put is counter-intuitive but true.

The fact that property values go up as speeds go down and the fact that local residents can cross the street safely and enjoy active transportation when cut-through traffic is eliminated are all missing from the conversation because the conversation never took place.

The LADOT must embrace a "Common Ground" approach to traffic engineering or the Wilbur Incident repeat itself in other neighborhoods.

3) Council Office Incompetence: Councilman Smith has come forward to argue that the bike lanes don't make sense. In fact, he went so far as to introduce a motion that would require all bikeways improvements to go to the local neighborhood council for approval. This from a guy who has worked the hardest in city council to keep neighborhood councils from gathering steam.

He has championed speed limit increases in his district over neighborhood council objections. But now, they become his ally (or tool) in fighting the LADOT who acted against his wishes.

Smith objects to the bike lanes on Wilbur Avenue, claiming cyclists are only 2% of the population and that they shouldn't get more than their share.

He forgets that when discussing Measure R, he fought to have the funding for bikeways improvements reduced below 0.75%, again arguing that cyclists should only get their fair share.

He apparently subscribes to the win-lose theory of transportation planning (wait until he finds out about the Complete Streets Act!) and is simply confused on what constitutes "fair share."

The upside to Smith's involvement in the brouhaha is his motion that now directs all transportation projects in the community to the neighborhood council, a position that empowers the community and introduces accountability and oversight to the mysteries of transportation.

4) LA Times incompetence: Sandy Banks wrote a column bemoaning the Wilbur Avenue "improvements" and demonstrates the casualness that is all too common at the LA Times. While the general public may not care too much about the difference between bike routes, bike lanes, and bike paths, one would think that journalists would at least attempt to differentiate between a $2K bike route and a $1.5MM bike path. (Wilbur gets neither but that doesn't stop the LA Times from getting them mixed up)

The LA Times refers to 400 miles of existing bikeways facilities, projects the addition 40 more per year for the next 20 years, and predicts a resulting 1600 miles of Bike lanes and paths. Whew! Too much cut-and-paste on the Mayor's press release! The reality is this, there are currently 58 miles of paths and 157 miles of lanes.

The proposed Bike Plan will result in 157 miles of paths and 213 miles of lanes. The Mayor's promise of 1600 miles includes 511 miles of studies, 101 miles of routes, and 651 miles of friendly streets. Step away from the Kool-Aid!

Banks (and the Times) can be forgiven the sloppy grasp of transportation designations and mathematical failures but the LA Times column inadvertently justifies "road diets" with when it protests the impact of the bike lanes on Wilbur.

Banks writes "For years, Wilbur Avenue had been a free-flowing community secret, a commuter street that bypassed the congestion of Northridge's main routes. Then a "street improvement" project last month turned our speedway into a parking lot."

The Wilbur "road diet" isn't a tool for benefiting cyclists, it's a strategy for getting Banks and other motorists to slow down, to stop using the smooth-flowing street as a cut-through alternative to the arterials that are congested. It is a tool for returning streets to the community, to the people who live in the neighborhood.

Through it all it is evident that the real clash of cultures is not between cyclists and motorists, nor is it between locals and cut-through traffic. It is between City Departments that operate with complete arrogance combined with contempt for the public and Neighborhood Councils, empowered by the City Charter to advise the Mayor and the City Council on the budget and the delivery of services.

The Wilbur Avenue fracas is dismissed by many as a tempest in a local neighborhood teapot but the impact will resonate throughout the city. This could be good for neighborhood councils, it could be good for local residents and merchants who are most directly impacted by cut-through traffic, and it could be good for people of all modes if we can work together and establish common ground.

For that to happen, it's important that puff pieces such as LA's proposed Bike Plan are analyzed for accuracy and held to a performance standard.

It's imperative that the Bike Plan be incorporated into the community plans and that it is integrated into LA's strategic transportation plan. Most importantly,

LA's proposed Bike Plan must satisfy the Complete Streets Act which goes in to effect on Jan 1, 2011.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hey LA, Let’s Sue for Transportation Malpractice!

CityWatch, Oct 8, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 80

The single greatest threat to the status quo of transportation planning and development in the LA area is the Hippocratic Oath, the simple commitment to do no harm. "Primum non nocere."

Imagine if all transportation projects were first screened to eliminate the twin traps of over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism. Consider the benefit to the community if transportation authorities were responsible for the unintended consequences of "the cure." The practitioners of the 405/Sepulveda Pass project would be conducting business in a dramatically different fashion if they had started the journey by taking the Hippocratic Oath. Their current loyalty is to the $1 billion contract that directs the widening of the 405 in order to accommodate a northbound car-pool lane from the 10 freeway to the 101 freeway, not to the community it impacts.

When the "treatment" is completed, three bridges will have been replaced, 27 on-ramps and off- ramps will have been adjusted, and 13 underpasses and structures will have been widened.

When the "patient" awakens, freeway traffic will exit on "improved" off-ramps, entering the local community at freeway speeds. Enhanced integration between the freeway and adjacent streets will support local freeway-alternative traffic congestion. Widened streets with faster traffic will eliminate pedestrian traffic and render mass transit access obsolete.

The practitioners of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement would be developing a completely different project if they were to apply the simple standard of leaving things better than they found them. The current bridge has features that the proposed bridge lacks, resulting in a project that includes "engineered conflict."

The "patient" has long objected that the proposed bridge fails to plan for all modes of transportation and does not replace the current existing pedestrian walkway. Community members also point out that the proposed bridge fails to address a vision for connectivity, options for the future of Terminal Island. Project Managers dismiss the complaints as unnecessary, pointing out that it's simply a shipping route for trucks.

The Long Beach City Council agrees with the community and had to take formal action, simply to request that existing features be retained in the future. They concur with the Coastal Commission in recognizing that a $1 billion investment in connectivity is a half century commitment to the future of Terminal Island and to restrict that vision is to damn the "patient" to a life of shipping container storage.

Other projects such as the Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway and the Sepulveda Reversible Lane demonstrate that there is no greater power than a funded project. In both cases, the inadvertent identification of a specific element required its inclusion in the final project, regardless of its appropriateness, simply because it was funded as named.

The Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway has 100 yards of dedicated Busway on the eastbound end of the 4.5 mile project, the last vestige of the original $93 million Busway project that proposed a bus lane down the center of Santa Monica Boulevard, from Beverly Hills to the 405. It's there to qualify for the funding, not because it belongs or serves any purpose.

The Sepulveda Reversible Lane has been reduced to 100 yards inside the Mullholland tunnel, the last vestige of an $11.3 million project that proposed reversible lanes from Wilshire Boulevard to Mullholland Boulevard. The project was funded, it has been absorbed into the 405/Sepulveda Pass project, and the reduced reversible element exists simply to qualify for the funding.

These projects demonstrate the need for a new paradigm for transportation planning and development.

1) The community benefit must be required, not negotiated. The W Hollywood Hotel has already experienced its first pedestrian death, caused by a truck driver leaving the facility and running over an old lady in the crosswalk. The negotiated "community benefits" included intersection improvements at all four corners, bulb-outs, ped scrambles, etc. but none of them "penciled out" meaning the developers do this for a living and the community is out-gunned.

2) The project must actually be an improvement, not simply an effort to churn funding. Funded projects that inadvertently include obsolete elements are dead. Improving the community is the objective, not simply funding transportation departments. Design & Build mandates encounter Stall & Defend opposition from the local community because they fail to consider the unintended consequences.

3) The project must leave the community better than before, not as the result of community intervention, but as the result of a simple guiding principle that is in the DNA of the project. The impact to the local community must be a priority and solutions that sever routes, restrict access, and increase cut-through traffic are not solutions, they are problems.

The largest developers in our community are Caltrans, Metro, and the CRA. The most significant amount of public money being spent on development is dedicated to transportation and transportation related projects. The greatest opportunity to improve the quality of life in our neighborhood is through responsible transportation planning and development that is community oriented.

The current struggle for the development and implementation of standards for Transit Oriented Development is left to the community while Metro and its development partners charge ahead.

The current struggle for traffic congestion relief that actually improves conditions instead of simply moving the problem to adjacent streets is left to the community while the Department of Transportation charges ahead.

LA's future as a Great City demands that all transportation development continue with a "do no harm" mandate and that it is supported with real community benefit standards as the foundation for progress, not simply the fallout of long protracted battles with the neighborhood.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

Monday, October 04, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hollywood Flight Club

CityWatch, Oct 5, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 79


The City of Los Angeles is the capital of the entertainment universe, home to the most creative and innovative people, supported by the most sophisticated equipment, production facilities, and cutting edge technology. Complementing the wealth of human, technical, financial, and social capital is LA's beautiful weather and the wide variety of amazing locations, firmly establishing the Entertainment Industry as the backbone of LA's cultural and economic legacy.

It's all under attack!

As LA's leadership wanders the red carpet and savors the limelight, the competition is working overtime to compete, offering incentives and benefits that have successfully attracted significant numbers of film productions from the streets and backlots of LA to Canada, England, Australia, Hungary and Germany. Within the US, more than 40 states now offer incentives and New York, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico have led the charge in attracting film and video production away from LA.

Discussions of runaway production typically focus on the high-altitude incentives that are offered to production companies and usually involve large budgets. Even "low-budget" productions aren't really low budget, they're just lower on the totem pole than the larger budget productions but they all involve significant amounts of money.

Proponents of CA Film incentives and tax credits argue that keeping film and television production in California is a solid economic stimulus strategy and point to the thousands of jobs, from carpenter to hair dresser, that will be generated.

Opponents claim that the numbers are mythical and that the handwringing has been going on since 1957 when a coalition of Hollywood unions commissioned a report that claimed European and Mexican productions were damaging the U.S. film industry.

Somewhere in the middle of the "fight subsidy with subsidy" vs. "business without bailouts" battle sits the City of Los Angeles, completely distracted by the California vs. Canada debate and apparently oblivious to the fact that the local Industry is cheating on LA with the neighbors.

LA has long taken the Entertainment Industry for granted and cities such as Santa Monica, Culver City, Burbank and Glendale have been quietly courting the individuals and companies that make the movies, that produce the videos, that design the video games, that market the finished product, that provide the equipment, that deliver the goods, that make it happen.

If the Mayor and his Economic Development Team want to better understand the business and design a strategy for protecting LA's economic and cultural backbone, they simply need to get off the red carpet and hang out at the Craft Service table for a while. Within minutes they'll witness a parade of grips, electricians, camera operators, make-up artists, set-builders and teamsters, all foraging for Red Vines and engaging in a state of the industry discussion.

Craft Service is where the crew will review the Director, evaluate the Producer, analyze the shooting schedule, project the prospect of future employment, predict the economic future of the city and reevaluate their career choices in light of the bleak economic forecast.

It's in this context that the Mayor will see that the greatest opportunity to strengthen and fortify LA's position in the entertainment industry is to simply ask "Why are so many entertainment companies willing to move to Placentia, Santa Clarita, and Thousand Oaks?"

Entertainment entities exist in clusters. Production offices crew up, gear gets moved, hotels fill up, offices and restaurants host meetings, post production takes place, film gets developed, screenings are held, gifts are given, parties are held, nothing happens in a vacuum. Yet when one or two elements disappear, the entire cluster is in danger and LA is losing its entertainment base.

When 525 Post moved from Hollywood to Santa Monica, their new host said "We will do everything in our power to make them and their clients feel at home here." These are the words that we should be hearing from LA's City hall.

As Panavision considers consolidating its Hollywood and Woodland Hills operations and relocating in Burbank, the City of LA is putting its economic development shoulder behind a Woodland Hills Costco. What are LA's priorities?

The Hollywood Production Center offers turn-key production offices and services, the kind of incubator facility that encourages the individuals and small companies that make up the bulk of our economy. Their most recent investment was in Glendale, part of a continuing trend away from Hollywood.

The City of LA takes the Entertainment Industry for granted and then wonders why the crown jewels of film production have left town. It is imperative that the City of Los Angeles protect its assets and its claim to the vital economic and cultural impact of the Industry by supporting and protecting the people and the businesses that make it happen.

Shooting a film in Los Angeles is difficult enough without having to add two hours of travel on either end of a long day, simply to move trucks and gear and talent from one side of town to the other.

Years ago, a camera operator was killed when he fell asleep while driving home after a long day on location. Union members collected more than 10,000 signatures in support of "Brent's Rule" which would limit production to 14 hours a day. Since then, the emphasis has faded as the desire to work has preempted any debates over long hours and travel time.

For all of the glamour and Red Vines, the brutal reality of film production is that it's hard work with long hours and a huge impact on the economic landscape of Los Angeles. Those employed in the industry now look longer to find jobs that pay less, they travel farther to work on jobs that are relocating to more hospitable environments, a term that now applies to Ontario and Calabasas, they incur travel and relocation expenses in order to compete as locals, and they do it without the support of the City of Los Angeles.

People from around the world come to Los Angeles because they believe it to be the Capital of the Entertainment World. They know the names of our streets, they know the history, they know the details, and they value the opportunity to simply visit as tourists.

Our neighboring communities know the value of the Hollywood legacy and they also appreciate it, freely helping themselves to it by courting our companies and wooing our people. They succeed while LA fails because they appreciate the value of the Industry.

The City of Los Angeles must commit to serving the locals who have invested in their neighborhoods, the businesses who have put down roots in their communities, and the Industry that is LA's economic and cultural backbone.

LA's relationship with the Entertainment Industry must start with a commitment to support the small businesses and protect the local individuals. These are the elements of a Great City.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)