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Metro Scores $200 Million in Obama’s Proposed Budget

There is much celebrating going on by Metro and  transit expansion advocates around the region. In President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for next year, a cool $200 million is set aside for Los Angeles under the “new starts” program. $100 million of that is set to go towards the Regional Connector and the other $100 million to the Westside Subway extension.

The $200 million is a record investment for the Los Angeles region and will help both projects be completed at lower cost to local taxpayers. Both projects are partially funded by the Measure R sales tax passed by voters in 2008.

The Obama budget comes through for Eric Garcetti and Metro. Image: Eric Garcetti.com

The Obama budget comes through for Eric Garcetti and Metro. Image: Eric Garcetti.com

This is certainly good news for Los Angeles, however there are a couple of major obstacles left before Metro can start cashing these checks.

First, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has to play ball, and there are many reasons to believe they won’t be willing to. Knowing that a carbon tax of some sort might be politically unpopular in a mid-term election year, the Obama Administration proposes to close the transportation funding gap by “reforming” the corporate tax code. At Streetsblog USA, Angie Schmitt explains the problems with this approach:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the White House budget proposal includes $100 billion in new taxes on corporations’ international operations. About $150 billion is needed to bridge the gap between gas tax revenue and projected federal transportation spending over the next four years.

But even if the administration is able to somehow convince the House and Senate to pass the tax increase, there’s always a chance the budget itself won’t be able to pass the House of Representatives. It’s fortuitous that Obama and House Republican David Camp have similar plans for business tax reform, but mid-term elections often aren’t the best time for bi-partisan compromise to rule the day.

Over at The Source, Steve Hymon writes of the “big picture”: Read more…

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Feds Announce Regional Connector Funding, Hint at Purple Line Funding

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

Mayor Garcetti expresses his enthusiasm for the Regional Connector subway

This morning, local elected officials and federal administrators joined together to announce that Metro’s Regional Connector is now fully funded. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is granting $670 million in New Starts funding to the Regional Connector, and also extending a low-interest TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan of $160 million.

A document showing how the Connector is funded can be found at the bottom of this article.

While the Regional Connector announcement had been tipped in this morning’s Los Angeles Times, the surprise announcement is that the FTA hinted that it would also fund the pending request  for $1.2 billion for the Purple Line subway.

Streetsblog frequent readers may be very well aware of the Regional Connector. What follows is a three paragraph summary of the project and its timeline. If you’re already familiar with the project, skip ahead for today’s news, right after the page jump.

The Regional Connector is a $1.4 billion 1.9-mile light rail subway. It will extend from the Little Tokyo Gold Line Station west under 2nd Street to Bunker Hill, then south under Flower Street to the 7th Street Station. What best explains the Regional Connector’s importance is that it’s light rail. Yes – underground light rail. From downtown, Metro has light rail running north (Pasadena Gold Line), south (Blue Line), east (Gold Line Eastside Extension) and west (Expo Line), but there’s no connection in the middle. Today, to get from one of these lines to another, one has to take the heavy rail Red/Purple Line subway.

Regional Connector map - courtesy of Metro

Regional Connector map – courtesy of Metro

The Regional Connector closes downtown’s light rail gap, hence makes a lot of connections a lot easier. When the Connector is complete, today’s 3-4 rail lines consolidate down to just two. There will the combined Gold-Expo line extending from East L.A. to Santa Monica, and the combined Blue-Gold line extending from Long Beach to Azusa.

The Regional Connector was funded under Measure R, with additional monies from State propositions 1A and 1B. Metro proposed a route alignment in 2010Metro released its environmental review documentation in early 2012. Though some downtown and Little Tokyo interests opposed the project due to construction headaches, Metro approved environmental documentation in April 2012. Read more…

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Better Bike Beverly Hills in the Los Angeles Times

(The following letter by Mark Elliott, Streetsblog famous for his work with Better Bike Beverly Hills, appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times.  It appears here with the author’s permission.-DN)

Re “Undermining the subway,” Editorial, May 30

As a Beverly Hills resident and safe streets advocate, I’m often asked, “Is everybody in this city against tunneling under Beverly Hills High School to build the Westside subway extension?” (Dunno.) “Why does your city oppose every good transportation proposal?” (Ditto.) Even I don’t have a real sense of the opposition. The vocal folks are only a small fraction of our city of about 35,000 people, but they carry the tune. Who has the polling data anyway?

In all of the yammering, though, we overlook the other costs of the fight with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It’s not just money; the Beverly Hills Unified School District has plenty to throw at it. Rather, it is the continued countenance of car-choked streets that turn 99% of us away from the single best answer to congestion that we have: the bicycle. In shackling ourselves to the automobile, we overlook the tangible sacrifices that we make every day. For many of us, however, the tunnel issue is a hypothetical.

City officials have a delicious opponent in Metro, which has long had its way with small communities. But instead of tapping into community fear, civic leaders could address our land use and transportation challenges and strike an appropriate balance between the urgent (the tunnel) and the important (future mobility and housing affordability). When we make hyperbolic claims in lieu of sober rationales, we betray our worst side. And that makes it more difficult to tackle our above-ground problems — to say nothing of cultivating the goodwill of folks across the region.

Mark Elliot

Beverly Hills

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Beverly Hills Unified School District Files CEQA Suit Against Westside Subway

A "protest sign" via Century City Subway/Facebook

(Editor’s note: A full copy of the legal petition can be found here.)

It was only a matter of time.

Earlier today, the Beverly Hills Unified School District filed suit against Metro alleging a “rush-to-judgment by the Metro Board designed to hurry the decision through without awaiting full and complete information needed by the decision makers and the public to make informed environmental choices.”  The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles State Superior Court  under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), which requires that government agencies such as Metro consider environmental consequences before certifying or approving projects.

The School District opposes any subway plans that include tunneling and subway operation under Beverly Hills High School.  After last week’s passage of the environmental documents for the subway, a lawsuit seemed inevitable.  In fact, it took two work days and a couple of hours for the School District to act.

“This has been a biased and flawed process from the beginning. Metro decided long ago that it wanted to put the Century City station at Constellation and it has refused to review or consider any other options,” stated Brian Goldberg, president of the BHUSD Board of Education.

Goldberg is referring to the studies completed on behalf of the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District that cast doubt on the official seismological and geological studies completed by a team of independent experts hired by Metro to complete the studies for the environmental review.  For its part, Metro’s team used the studies completed on behalf of Beverly Hills governmental bodies to sharpen and improve their initial findings.

The Beverly Hills experts had over three hours to make a presentation in front of a bare majority of the Metro Board fifteen days ago.  Their team punched holes in Metro’s experts claims and outlined other potential routes for the Subway that avoided the high school.  Regardless of the reasons, the Metro Board passed the Subway environmental documents, including the portion under Beverly Hills High School, last week. Read more…

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Fearless Prediction: Metro Will Approve the Westside Subway Route under Beverly Hills High School

Update at 1 p.m.: As predicted, the Metro Board has voted 7-to-2 to approve the Constellation Station for the Westside Subway with a routing under Beverly Hills High School. More details at The Source.

As mentioned earlier, I won’t be attending or listening to today’s Metro Board Meeting or the Special Hearing on the Westside Subway because I will be traveling.  However, after four years of public outreach, including a pair of three hour meetings in the last month, I don’t think I need to be there.

You really think this guy doesn't have his ducks in a row? Me neither. Image: L.A. Weekly

Fearless prediction: this afternoon, the Metro Board of Directors will vote to approve a subway alignment that runs from a station at Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard to a station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars–and the route will run underneath Beverly Hills High School.  Sometime in June, I’ll write a story about the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District suing the agency arguing that they did not meet state environmental laws when examining the subway route.

The approval will follow hours of public testimony.  There will not be any videos played.

Why am I so confident?  Simple math.  Unless a Board Member votes out of character, there are seven votes “in the bag,” which is a majority of the board.  There is one vote that is a certain “no.” There are five votes that are in some question.

First the “no.”  At last month’s board meeting, Supervisor Mike Antonovich voted against even the extension of the existing subway to La Cienega Boulevard, four miles from the current end at Wilshire/Western.  Antonovich’s other public statements point towards another “no” tomorrow.

Next, the “yeses.”  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is almost certainly a supportive vote.  With his support comes the support of his three appointees, Mel Wilson, Richard Katz and Councilman Jose Huizar.  Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is a certain supporter.  Diane Dubois voted for the route in committee.  However, there is a real chance that she will miss today’s meeting for personal reasons.

If Dubois is present, then a majority is nearly assured without the support of any other board members.  If it’s not assured, then the Subway route needs one more supporter from the five remaining votes. Read more…

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Beverly Hills Brings Its Best Face and Smartest Brains to Yesterday’s Subway Hearing

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

Yesterday afternoon must have been surreal for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  At noon, he delivered remarks to an audience of 1,200 of L.A.’s elite at the Westin Bonaventure as part of the Center City Association’s “Treasures” awards.  Jokes about the lackluster performance of the Lakers in the past couple of days were contrasted with the upbeat feelings some have about the suddenly hot Los Angeles Kings and the soccer champions with the Los Angeles Galaxy.  The Mayor avoided having his picture taken with newly minted “treasure” Hugh Hefner.

But the real contrast came an hour and a half later when the crowd of 1,200 cheering Angelenos was traded for several hundred skeptical and irritated residents of Beverly Hills who traveled to Metro headquarters to hear the last effort of Beverly Hills’ seismic experts to convince the Metro Board of Directors that the safest and best route for the Westside Subway will not take it under Beverly Hills.  Instead of hanging out with Hef, Villaraigosa was waiting for Metro Board Member Mel Wilson to call in to a hearing, and when that didn’t work out had to appoint a temporary Board Member to meet quorum.

For those of you just joining us, officials and residents from Beverly Hills are waging open war on the preferred Westside Subway expansion route that would take the subway under the high school.  The Metro Board of Directors was poised to approve the route at last month’s board meeting, citing seismic and geological reports conducted on behalf of the agency until the Beverly Hills City Council requested yesterday’s hearing at an emergency meeting held days before the scheduled Metro Board meeting.

Early reports from the yesterday’s hearing hint that the three hours of testimony didn’t change many minds.  Supervisor Mike Antonovich told the Times that the Beverly Hills’ experts made a good case and chided Villaraigosa for trying to “shove the route down their throats.”  Richard Katz, a Villaraigosa appointee to the Board, sounded more skeptical.

Whether the lack of change is a result of Beverly Hills not proving its scientific point, or because the Metro Board had as much of a chance to understand the science as I did, or whether the fix really is in in Metro headquarters will most likely be determined by a judge.  Representatives of the hills wasted no time clarifying that if and when the Board approves a route that goes under the high school, that a legal challenge under the state’s CEQA environmental law would soon follow. Read more…

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New Video: Hill Folk Want to Stay Stuck in 1959


In advance of tomorrow’s hearing at Metro headquarters over the Westside Subway, a group called L.A. on the Move released the above video on YouTube. The video graphically illustrates their concerns. Sometimes a video is so clear that commentary from Streetsblog writers is not necessary.

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Fact Check: There Is No $38.7 Million Payout to JMB Realty in Westside Subway Plans

Do the math. "Constellation A" assumes a station entrance at the NE corner of Constellation and Ave. of the Stars on property owned by JMB Realty. "Constellation B" assumes a entrance at the SW corner in front of the Hyatt Regency. Note that the station on JMB property would actually cost $38.7 million less than the one in front of the Hyatt. Table from the Century City Station Report from the Westside Subway EIR.

(Hello Beverly Hills Courier readers!  Confused by allegations that Metro controls editorial decisions here at Streetsblog?  To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of the connections between Streetsblog and Metro right here.)

The headline was breathless, as many headlines in the Beverly Hills Courier often are. “Courier Exclusive Report: Century City Subway Station $38.7 Million Payoff to JMB,” blared last week’s lead story. Even by the sensationalist standards of the Courier, this one seemed a big story.

The gist of the Courier’s big scoop: Metro is planning to spend $38.7 million dollars more to purchase property for a Constellation Avenue Station on property owned by JMB Realty than it would for property located literally across the street.  Of course, as is often the case, the story isn’t factually accurate.

From the Courier Exclusive:

Although the disclosure is difficult to read, it appears that Metro will pay $38.7 million more for JMB’s property at 10131 Constellation Blvd. than a comparable site underneath Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars.

The story plays right into the Courier’s narrative about the Westside Subway alignment.  JMB Realty and its ties to Mayor Villaraigosa have long been the culprit when discussion of why the Subway will probably go under Beverly Hills High School to a station at Constellation Ave and Avenue of the Stars rather than Santa Monica Boulevard adjacent to a golf course.

We should note that either of the stations discussed in this story  would require tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.  The purpose of the article is not to demand a station re-route, just to smear Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Metro and JMB Realty by claiming that the realty company will receive nearly $40 million more than the Hyatt across the street would if the station were built on its property.

This “payoff” seems the perfect story to continue the narrative of a realty giant colluding with a big city mayor to blow up Beverly Hills High School.

Except, of course, the story isn’t actually true.  As a matter of fact, the station on JMB owned property is actually $38.7 million less expensive to build than the one in front of the Hyatt according to Metro’s environmental documents.

Confused by the difficult to read document as many people are when confronted by hundreds of pages of government-speak, the Courier makes some pretty large assumptions that there are no differences in the cost between the two stations other than the real estate costs.  Using advanced research techniques commonly known as “reading the next page after the chart” Streetsblog was able to get to the bottom of why the Subway will cost 4,241,525,000 with a station on one side of Constellation and another $4,280,252,000 on the other.  Hint: it has nothing to do with the funds Metro would have to spend to buy property from JMB Realty. Read more…

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Metro Approves Environmental Documents for Subway to La Cienega

The subway extension route approved today covers this route. The rest of the subway will have to wait for the May, June or even July meeting. Click on the image for a larger view.

The first of several major issue scheduled to be addressed by the Metro Board of Directors was the approval of the environmental documents for the Westside Subway.  After the Beverly Hills City Council formerly requested a hearing earlier this week, Metro staff recommended that the Board split approval for the Subway into two parts so that part could be approved today and part could be approved after another hearing was held.  The first part would cover the extension from the current Wilshire/Western stop to Wilshire/La Cienega.  The route approved would be 3.9 miles of the 8.6 mile route that was proposed by Metro staff.

Despite news that Metro wouldn’t vote on the subway route under Beverly Hills or the location of a Century City station, dozens of speakers from Beverly Hills shared comments that tunneling under the high school would be unsafe and a smaller but still significant number of speakers testified that such a route is perfectly safe and that opposition from Beverly Hills is a waste of time and resources.  The majority of the comments addressed the routing through Beverly Hills.  Because Metro made clear before testimony that they would not vote on the issues regarding Beverly Hills, we’re not going to cover that part of the conversation.

Support for the Subway was overwhelming among the speakers.  Only two speakers spoke out against the proposal to extend the Subway from the Wilshire/Western Intersection all the way to La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard.   Of the three speakers who spoke against the Subway in general terms, only the Bus Riders Union’s Sunyoung Yang made the case that the Subway was a waste of funds.  ”There is nothing sustainable or economically justifiable about this project when you are blowing $6 billion on a nine mile project,” concluded Yang.  Oddly, Yang’s comments were greeted by applause by many people who previously testified that they supported the subway and transit before hitting on some concerns unrelated to today’s vote. Read more…

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New Video: Metro Will Blow Up Beverly Hills High School

As debate continues at Metro headquarters over the Westside Subway, the Parent-Teacher Association of the Beverly Hills High School released the above video on YouTube. The video graphically illustrates their concerns. Sometimes a video is so clear that commentary from Streetsblog writers is not necessary.