SGV 626 : 2022 Review with Damien, Melanie, Joe and Chris

Damien: Welcome to our special end of the year episode of SGV Connect. I am Damien Newton and I’m here with with a lot of the Streetsblog team. I’ve got Chris Greenspon, who’s you know, with us every time, and Melanie Curry and Joe Linton we’re gonna go over some of the biggest stories of the year at the all levels of our state government down to the local governments. Afterwards Chris, you have an interview for us, right?

Chris: Yes, I do.

Damien: And who are we speaking with today?

Chris: We’re going to hear from John Axtell, he is the publisher of the SGV 626 Zine. This is a nice end of year piece to just sort of meditate on who we are as a region and where we’re going.

Damien: So before we get into our SGV Connect end of the year portion of things let me remind everybody that the podcasts SGV Connect and Streetsblog LA’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Offering car free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with extension to the goal line stations across the foothills and into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. To plan your trip visit Foothill Transit at Foothilltransit.org Foothill Transit going good places.

All right. So Melanie, we in the pre show, we decided that you were going to go first, hurray that I believe this is your 12th time with us.

Melanie: Hello. Actually, let’s not talk about how long I’ve been doing Streetsblog, California looking at the statewide stuff. And when we were talking about this, before, I realized, I have to be careful not to talk too fast, because there’s been a lot going on. So I’m just going to highlight a few of the main things that I see happening at the state level that, of course, affects every local region in California. One of the big things that I’m noticing is a steady change in leadership levels at Caltrans and at the California Transportation Commission, and at the state agency, the CALSTA agency towards paying more attention to climate issues, and how transportation funding ties in with that.

Now,it’s a work in progress. But one of the things that that means is that bikes and walking are getting a lot more attention than they did when I started this job whenever that was. And the theme this year was really that the Active Transportation Program needs more money. That’s even after getting a $1 billion boost. So everybody at the CTC at the meetings keeps repeating that the from the regional people who are getting some money to the leaders. So more money, more money for bikes and peds and safety.

This is awesome. This is a huge change for California. So that’s way up at the upper levels, though, so we’re not necessarily seeing all of it on the ground yet. And it’s kind of balanced out by the fact that Caltrans is still pushing freeways where it can.

And we’re seeing some changes in that. But we’re still seeing these large expensive freeway projects. Joe writes a lot here locally, too.

Yeah. And we have to be careful. I think the it could we don’t we don’t want that to just become lip service. So right now it’s all kind of new it but it could be lip service. And one of the problems that we’re seeing is that the people who are pro freeways are adopting some of that language. So like they’ve tried to use words like congested VMT. So like we’re supposed to reduce miles traveled. So what they’ll do, they’ll make the argument that the freeway reduces congested miles traveled, because it’s somehow reducing congestion. Although we know that that’s not the case. We know that. It induces demand. So it induces more driving, but they are using these words that sound like they’re meeting the goals of this state.

Joe: One of the things in that too in LA is their inequity focused communities like we’re, we’re giving, we’re investing in equity focused communities, ie we’re gonna tear down columns in black and brown neighborhoods in the name of equity, and freeway building. And building the freeway through that neighborhood as if it is serving that neighborhood.

Melanie: There’s other things like they say it’s not “induced demand,” it’s “latent demand”. We’re not doing this. Or like Joe has highlighted a bunch of times. It’s a gap closure. It’s an auxiliary lane. We’re not expanding capacity. So the freeway builders are understanding that they have to change their language but that’s maybe as far as they’ve gotten is changing their language. So it’s going to be an ongoing fight. It’s interesting to watch it though.

And then there’s the California, I always forget what CAPTI stands for the climate action plan for transportation, in investment. And that’s starting to have an effect on statewide tax, state gas tax funded programs. So that means that those programs are being made to align better with climate issues, which is huge.

It’s also like I said, way up in the stratosphere, so that’s not going to necessarily have a huge effect yet eventually, fingers crossed. Leadership doesn’t fall apart, people understand how important this is. And we keep doing this. So that’s my upper my high level view of what’s happened and what might happen in the future. Because that’s, that’s an ongoing switch. It’s, giant, I’m telling you. It is really big, but it will, it won’t affect everything yet.

I could talk about the ebike incentive, but that’s kind of stuck in neutral. And I’ve written about that about. It hasn’t started yet. Because I know when am I getting my email V bike incentive from the state? Maybe never, because there’s not going to be very many of them, they have $10 million for the state. Look at your local level for an ebike incentive.

Damien: So you there was some legislation you wanted to cover. And before we got into that, sorry, I like half cut you off, because I thought you were transitioning, I will say that we’re going to if you are reading this, if you’re listening to this podcast, somewhere that includes text that comes with it like it Streetsblog LA, for example, the article that accompanies the podcast will have links to the end of legislative wrap ups and the list of list of legislation that we’ve covered that the governor signed, it didn’t sign. So if we don’t cover something that you were curious about and don’t have the answer to yet. We probably have it in some of the stories that are linked to in the article that accompanies the podcast.

Melanie: And that’s a great warning to me to keep it short. Because the last time we did this, I talked for a long time because there were a lot of bills that had to do with biking and safety and sustainability and stuff.

So it was a very exciting legislative session. And some of those bills that didn’t make it through are probably going to be repeated or they’re going to try again, some of them have some of them tried three or four times and then finally got signed. Again, it’s a process, but the main ones I would talk about areIn the end, they called it the freedom to walk bill about jaywalking. So it doesn’t. It doesn’t say that jaywalking is now legal. What it does is it tells cops, you can’t pull people over for jaywalking, you can’t stop them for jaywalking, if they are not in imminent danger.

So if it’s clearly safe to cross. You’re fine. That’s that’s what the new bill says it’s huge. It’s a big difference.

This is maybe the third time he tried to get that bill through. And that was the agreement that they came to with law enforcement to get to get a signature on that bill. That takes place in January. That starts in January. So keep that in mind. And there were there. Things like the secret exemptions for bike and ped. bills up for bike and ped. projects, got extended. Cities are required by the state to plan for active transportation and traffic calming and their city plans. And there was a lot of like little adjustments to ongoing work on speed limits and stuff like that. And then the the things that fail that we might and hope to see again, is the bill that would have allowed bikes to treat stop signs as YIELD signs. I don’t actually know if that’s gonna come back. But it’s, it has come back three, two times.

Damien: I think I feel like we’ve covered it for a couple years.

Melanie: So the issue is not gonna go away. And the reason they got pulled was because Governor Newsom made it clear he was going to veto it. So the author Tasha Boerner Horvath just withdrew it. Maybe he’ll be convinced. I don’t really know how that works. You got it. You gotta get him on the right side.

Joe: Didn’t the state abolish parking near transit?

Melanie: Yes, yes. And I wasn’t even gonna talk about parking, but parking makes a big difference for all of us who want to ride our bikes to transit for sure. And everything else. There were so many things I left that part out but the planning And then bills made a big difference will make a big difference and that’s one of them.

Damien: I think it’s good to cover those the planning bills and the parking bills that won’t be popping up in your local newspaper that often. Because this stuff does make a difference down the line and the parking especially in a way communities grow. So parking, parking, just mentioning it is always a perfect transition to go to Joe because Joe really likes to talk about parking, but I don’t think that’s what you have in store for us today.

Joe: Moving from the state to the, to the local to the county level…Metro, it was a big year and Metro has, got a you know, an ambitious rail construction program, they opened the K Line. The Crenshaw LAX line, although doesn’t get to LAX yet. That’s a separate project coming in two years. But they’re months, just a couple months away from finishing what’s called the Regional Connector, the Downtown LA light rail subway that will tie together a bunch of lines.

So, you’d be able to go from East LA to Santa Monica and be able to go from Long Beach to Azusa that should be opening. Perhaps March. It should be should be open within the next two or three months. Folks in the San Gabriel Valley will be able to board the the Gold Line which is now the L Line and that’ll become the A Line which will take them all the way to Long Beach. So the other there’s other construction that Metro is extending the the subway underneath Wilshire Boulevard to the Westside.

That’s a big expensive project but that’s going to really connect the Westside of LA to Downtown in at very high speeds. So and then, in the in the San Gabriel Valley, the Gold Line has been extended. That project is on time and moving forward. Folks have seen probably street closures for bridge and great separation projects and whatnot. The initial phase is going to from Azusa to Pomona. Ultimately it’s supposed to get to Montclair and Metro is pursuing some state funding.

There’s a little bit of budget surplus that state legislators want to put toward transit infrastructure and so Metro is pursuing the monies that would finish the Gold Line construction. So but it’s still a couple years out before before the Pomona station. And there’s been some struggles like parking lawsuits and stuff so anyway so it hasn’t all gone super smoothly but it’s it’s compared to a lot of Metro projects like the Crenshaw rail that just open that was three years late; The Gold Line is doing well I mean, it’s a surface project on an existing rail right of way so it’s it’s not quite as complicated as some other projects have been.

Looking ahead, we’re gonna see that opening of the regional connector downtown and the metro board is going to have a lot of changes so we Sheila Kueh; retired and we’ve got Lindsay Horvath who’s very you know, millennial mayor who’s super into transit and wants to get Crenshaw extended to West Hollywood. And, and then Karen Bass comes in and what we’ll see her priority. She’s been upfront about being interested in fairless transit. It feels like that didn’t quite have the votes in the past at Metro. I mean, they they announced a system wide fare list a couple years ago, and then they quickly scaled it back to a two year pilot for only students at certain school districts.

So anyway, so we’ll see I think I think we’ll see fareless transit pushed up the flagpole again and perhaps succeeding for some sort of pilot. Other cities, Washington DC a few other cities have done it around the United States. And so there may be models there that that Metro can base that on. That’s the basic look back/ look ahead. At the at the outset of the past of the pandemic, Metro cut service heavily, kind of cut about 20% of service and suffered from a driver shortage, from COVID and whatnot, and it’s taken them a while to ratchet service backup. Just this past weekend, they they restored the full levels of service prior to the pandemic.

It hasn’t gone perfectly as far as I can tell, it looks like they’re still they’re still seeing a few lines, bus runs canceled. whatnot. It feels like as someone who rides the subway, I feel like the it used to be I would just hop I would just go to the station and hop on the next train. And now I still I feel like I have to read a schedule because the trains aren’t just aren’t quite as frequent. So anyway, so we’ll see I think Metro is, has worked its way back up from a pandemic low, but is, is just getting there to the sort of level of service that are really needed.

Chris: My two biggest stories for SGV Connect this year were one with longer ranging implications, and another smaller one that still had a lot of tension and feels worth mentioning. And again, we’ll have links to both of these and everything else in the podcast post. So first, I want to talk about the bus rapid transit concepts that came out of the SGV transit feasibility study, say that 10 times fast. So there were two suggested corridors for BRT Lane development, Valley Boulevard and Rosemead Boulevard, and both are within the studies focus area for new services, which is the less affluent lower SGV.

Neither of these boulevards is going to have a lane all the way through though instead there’s going to be some sections of what they’re calling transit priority corridors with express services, fewer stops and higher speeds. So the East West concept that would run on Valley would go from Union Station to Atlantic Station to Elmonte Station, possibly to Mount SAC and Cal Poly and then ultimately to the Pomona Transit Center. The north/south BRT Lane would be on Rosemead, but there could also be for other transit priority corridors running north and south and those would be on Atlantic, Peck, Azusa and Grand. What they’ve got earmarked from the cog right now, $635 million from Measure R, is really just enough to cover the BRT lanes on Rosemead and Valley….if that because the estimate is that it could take up to 900 odd million dollars, and that would be 10 to 15 years from now.

Not a short, orderly turnaround.

And then the other major story from this last year that I have is when the county supervisors tossed out an activist appeal to slow construction on 85 condo units that are going to be built on a decommissioned school site in Hacienda Heights. So back in 2018, Hacienda/la Puente Unified School District sold to defunct campuses to Lennar Homes, LLC. One of those is Glen Elder elementary which is off of Gale in City of Industry, just a block into unincorporated territory.

Residents say that Glen Elder is a rare open space remaining in the area when we’re in the past people have practiced soccer. Now if you were to drive by there, you’d see that it’s, it’s very dry dead crabby grass, you probably wouldn’t want to practice anything there. So School District officials are saying that the $20 million from the sale of Glen Elder plus the eventual students brought in by the condos are going to be a benefit to the district.

And they’re also saying that the courtyard that’s going to be built on the new condominium complex will be open space available to the neighborhood though, you know, albeit probably very concretized. So that’s the case for the condominium development.

Activists say that it’s going to cause gentrification and congestion and it’s going to ruin their views of the mountains from that little area in Hacienda Heights. Now, this ended up being tossed out by four out of five of the county supervisors. Hilda Solis abstained from voting because the project contains no affordable housing component, but it doesn’t really have to because the application was submitted in 2019, you know, a year prior to the inclusionary housing housing ordinance in 2020 for the county.

So that’s what I’ve got, in retrospect.

Stuff to look forward to in the next few months of 2023. Foothill Transit got some new stuff cooking at Cal Poly and Mount SAC. In January, the Silver Streekn will begin stopping at Cal Poly and give students aligned to downtown LA from the campus. It’s worth noting that Cal Poly students make up 2% of the agency’s total ridership. And any Cal Poly student can get a Foothill Transit class pass for free. And then another thing we’re going to be covering as it develops, and this is probably going to be set up by spring, is Foothill is opening a new transit center at Mount SAC. And we’ll be speaking with Sac students and professors about that. So other than that, planning to have some good interviews in the next year for the podcast, and as Joe has been gently nudging me about doing some kind of listicles about good rides and hikes in the SGV.

Joe: Alright, the new Hydrogen buses part of those those Foothill lines that you mentioned, or…

Chris: Well, the Hydrogen buses are going to be trickled in sort of throughout the fleet, there isn’t going to be any single line that’s like all hydrogen. I think, as of the end of this month, they’re supposed to have 33 Total Hydrogen buses. So, you know, obviously not enough to make a big splashy takeover of any particular line.

Damien: All right. Well, I think that unless someone else has something to do, I think that that’s a good summary of where we are and where we’re going, and what’s going to be next. If you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably listening to it close to the end of December. And you know, we usually go on a sort of a publishing break between the Christmas holiday and New Year’s. So if this is the last chance you have to interact with us between now and then wish you happy and safe holidays, happy 2023.