California’s Water Crisis: Promising Way More than We Can Deliver

Source: US Drought Monitor

Even if you don’t pay attention to the news, you’re probably aware that Los Angeles has been unusually dry for the past few years.  If you do follow the news, you may have heard that right now California’s snowpacks are well below their 20th century average.  And if you really pay attention to this stuff, you probably saw the news that the past 22-year period is the driest the American West has experienced in over a millennium.

Scary stuff.  And as the impacts of climate change grow more pronounced, there’s a good chance things will get even scarier.  Since it doesn’t seem likely that government officials or the public at large are going to make any real progress in cutting back on fossil fuels, the weird weather we’ve been seeing for the past couple decades is likely to get a whole lot weirder. 

So what can we do?  Well, the first thing we should do is stop lying to ourselves about how much water we have access to.  A recent study from UC Davis shows that water rights allocations to California’s water users are about five times the state’s annual runoff.  In other words, we’ve promised to deliver about five times more water than we actually have. 

How did this happen?  Well, back in the 20th century, when everyone was convinced that California was going to keep growing forever and that we had endless supplies of everything, Federal, State and regional agencies built a ridiculous number of dams and canals to deliver lots of water to everyone who wanted it.  Two decades into the 21st century, it should be clear to all of us that we can’t keep growing forever and that our resources are definitely limited.     

CalMatters recently ran an excellent piece by Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of California Water Impact Network, where Krieger clearly states the most important takeaway from the UC Davis report: We have to manage our water resources based on the amount of water that’s actually available.  Here’s the link to Krieger’s article. 

Here Is the First Step to a Sustainable Water Policy

California faces huge challenges in meeting its future water needs.  The first step is to be honest about how much water we actually have.  Let’s stop pretending.  It’s time to get real. 

The Latest Bad News From Metro: Fewer Drivers, Less Service

More depressing news on the transit front. Metro will again be making cuts to service as of February 20. Service on bus lines will be reduced by about 12%. The B Line (Red) and D Line (Purple) will see a reduction of 5%, and the rest of the rail lines will be cut by around 14%.

The reason for this? Like employers all across the nation, Metro is losing drivers faster than it can hire them. This is not too surprising. The starting pay for bus drivers is $17.75 an hour for a 30-hour work week. Would you be willing to spend your day fighting LA traffic for $17.75 an hour? And as more drivers leave, those who remain must do mandatory overtime to fill in the gaps. Apparently morale is pretty low. Metro is currently offering a $3,000 signing bonus, and they also plan to raise the hourly rate for operators to $19.12, but that’s just part of a temporary pilot program.

And bus riders aren’t too happy about the situation, either. According to LAist, in the month of January about one in five scheduled bus trips were cancelled. If morale among drivers is low, you can imagine how it must be among riders.

On the one hand, you can’t really blame Metro for having staff shortages, since employers all over the country are facing the same situation. On the other hand, this is just the latest round of bad news from an agency that seems incapable of doing the job it’s supposed to do.

There was the botched rollout of service changes last year.

Before that we had cost overruns and delays on the Crenshaw Line, which is still not complete.

And who can forget the disastrous re-opening of the A Line (Blue Line)?

Remember, ridership had been dropping for years before the pandemic kicked in. From 2014 to 2019, Metro lines saw about a 20% drop in ridership. During this same period Metro kept hyping their efforts to build more rail, even though weekly rail ridership was in steady decline. Apparently this does not bother the Metro Board at all. If you look at their blog, The Source, it’s full of news about rail, rail and more rail, including the proposed Sepulveda Transit Corridor, the D Line (Purple Line) Extension and the West Santa Ana Branch Line. And from Metro’s perspective, there’s nothing but good news. Scrolling through the posts on The Source, it’s just one upbeat story after another about all the great things they’re doing. The news about the service cuts was buried under the heading “Recap of Metro Board of Directors January Meeting”.

This is the thing that bothers me most about Metro. It seems the Board is completely out of touch with reality. They go merrily along, throwing billions of dollars of taxpayer money at projects that seem to always run behind schedule and over budget, while claiming that they’re delivering state-of-the-art transit to the masses. If you listen to them, it’s all blue skies and sunshine. Meanwhile, the rain just keeps falling on those of us who actually have to rely on busses and trains to get around.

In this article LAist delivers the latest bad news.

LA Metro Is Cutting Service Again As It Struggles To Hire (And Keep) Bus Operators

Newsom’s Budget Targets Housing

With the State continuing to enjoy a strong surge in revenue, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes substantial funds to address housing needs.  Newsom wants to spend $2 billion on homelessness, and another $2 billion to address housing in general.  Of course, there are those who say this still isn’t enough, and others who say Newsom’s priorities are wrong, but there are a lot of good things in his proposed budget.  I’m not a Newsom fan, but I think that in some ways he’s on the right track.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

One of the things Newsom wants to promote is urban infill development, in other words building dense residential housing where infrastructure already exits, as opposed to more suburban sprawl.  This is nothing new.  State and local politicians have been pushing this for years, and in theory it makes perfect sense.  One of the main goals of this policy is to make people less reliant on cars, encouraging them to take transit instead, or to ride a bike or maybe even just walk.  The overriding goal is to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is that we’ve been doing this for years and it hasn’t been working.  In fact, it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction.  LA and San Francisco have been building thousands of new residential units near transit hubs, and yet transit ridership has been falling for years.  Worse, in Southern California the rate of car ownership has been climbing steadily since 2000

So what do we do?  Well, there is evidence suggesting that high-priced new development in urban centers is causing gentrification, which displaces low-income transit riders.  I can tell you I’ve seen numerous instances in Hollywood where low-income tenants have been thrown out of their apartments to make way for new projects.  We need to preserve existing housing that’s accessible to low-income households, and to build a lot more affordable housing.  That’s why I’m glad that Newsom is setting aside $500 million for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and another $500 million to preserve and increase affordable housing stock.  Of course, much more money is needed, since the federal government has slashed funding for affordable housing over the last several years.  But the money Newsom is providing is a step in the right direction. In LA, the vast majority of transit riders live in low-income households. We need to help them remain near the transit hubs they rely on.

Another smart move Newsom has made is to earmark $100 million to support the conversion of office buildings to apartments.  This makes a lot of sense, not just because more people are working from home these days, but because it helps minimize the significant environmental impacts caused both by the demolition of old buildings and the construction of new ones.  As many people have said, the greenest building is the one that’s already standing.   

The funding Newsom has proposed will not solve our housing problems, but it will help.  That is, assuming the legislature supports his budget.  This article from CalMatters offers a more detailed breakdown.   

Newsom on Homelessness: ‘We’ve Gotta Clean Up those Encampments’

Seniors at Cathay Manor Forced to Live in Miserable Conditions

Cathay Manor Apartments in Chinatown

These days it’s difficult for seniors in LA to find affordable housing.  And it’s even more difficult to find affordable housing that’s properly maintained.  The seniors at Chinatown’s Cathy Apartments have been struggling to deal with elevators that don’t work, doors that won’t close, broken electrical outlets, leaky faucets and other significant habitability issues, without getting much help from the City of LA.

But last year the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED), an activist organization based in Chinatown, stepped up and started demanding that local officials pay attention.  They began a social media campaign to put pressure on Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Congressional Rep Jimmy Gomez to take action. 

It worked.  Community pressure has forced Cedillo and Gomez to get involved.  And the LA Times reports that local, state and federal agencies have launched investigations into the causes of the problems at Cathay Manor.  The LA City Attorney’s office has also filed a complaint.  The landlord and the organization that operates the building have plenty of excuses, but according to the Times they’re getting around $3.5 million annually from the federal government.

So why can’t they take care of basic habitability and safety issues?  According to the complaint filed by the City Attorney’s Office, elevators are not operational, fire protection systems are defective, fire extinguishers are inoperable and inaccessible, and the owners can’t even keep the building free of graffiti and trash. 

The tenants at Cathay Manor shouldn’t have to deal with these problems.  Senior citizens on fixed incomes need access to safe, clean, affordable housing.  But not only has the City of LA failed by a long shot to provide the housing that citizens need, the City Council is doubling down on policies that promote huge density bonusses to developers in exchange for a small number of affordable units.  According to the LA Department of City Planning’s Housing Progress Reports web page, the City has approved 172,613 new units since July 2013.  Of that total, 87% have been for Above Moderate Income households.  (Above Moderate Income households are defined as households that earn 120% or more of the Area Median Income.)  The remaining 13% are for Moderate Income, Low Income and Very Low Income households.  The recently adopted Housing Element and the proposed New Zoning Code will only exacerbate this intolerable imbalance. 

If you want to read more about the situation at Cathay Manor, the Times story is below, along with the press release from the City Attorney’s Office and the complaint they filed. 

Moldy Walls, Cold Stoves and Broken Elevators: This Is Life at Chinatown’s Cathay Manor

Press Release Re Cathy Manor Complaint from City Attorney’s Office

Complaint against Don Toy & CCOA Housing Corporation

Angels Knoll

I love cities.  And I love Downtown LA.  But the older I get, the more I think about the damage that cities do to the environment.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Downtown was largely undeveloped.  In a little over a hundred years, it’s become a dense urban landscape crowded with office buildings and residential towers, crisscrossed by roads and freeways.  As a result, LA is hotter and drier, the air is dirtier, and like every other urban center, we’re contributing to climate change in a big way.

I was wandering around Cal Plaza a while ago, and ran across a piece of Downtown I’d forgotten about. As I looked out over the city in the direction of Hill Street, I saw that directly below me there was a small park.  It took me a minute to realize it was the same park I’d seen many times at the intersection of Fourth and Hill.  It’s been fenced off for years.  Much of the greenery is dry, and the trees could certainly use some attention, but it was so cool to run across a patch of green space in the middle of all the steel and concrete. 

Actually, it’s not technically a park.  It’s a small patch of land called Angels Knoll that had been owned by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).  (I assume it got the name because it’s right night next to Angels Flight.)  When the CRA was dissolved in 2012, a petition was circulated asking the City to turn the land over to the Department of Parks & Recreation.  But that didn’t happen.  As one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels in the Downtown area, the property is worth a fortune.  The decision was made to put it up for sale.

A June, 2021 memo from CRA/LA, the successor agency to the CRA, sets the price of the parcel at $50 million. The buyer, Angels Landing Partners, is actually a joint venture by the Peebles Corporation, MacFarland Partners and Claridge Partners.  According to the LA Department of City Panning web site, the proposed Angels Landing project involves the construction of two skyscrapers, one rising 63 stories and the other rising 42 stories.  In addition to two hotels and 72,000 square feet of commercial space, the project also includes 180 condos and 252 apartments.  Apparently some affordable housing is supposed to be provided, but at this point it’s not clear how much. 

Of course, the project will generate lots of jobs and economic activity.  According to the Environmental Impact Report, it will also generate 10,179 metric tons of CO2 equivalent during the construction phase alone.  Beyond that, it will contribute to the steadily increasing temperatures in the LA area, along with a number of other massive projects planned for Downtown, Hollywood, Warner Center and elsewhere.

And we’ll also be losing one of the few remaining patches of green in Downtown.  City Hall has made its priorities clear.  They want the skyscrapers.  Of course, LA was built by developers and politicians who prioritized growth over everything else.  That’s how LA got to be what it is today.  But the older I get, the more I feel that this addiction to growth is incredibly destructive.  Our warming climate and shrinking water resources are a direct result of unchecked development. 

We really don’t need another skyscraper.  We absolutely need more parks.

Work Continues on Sixth Street Bridge

The Sixth Street Bridge’s arches rising above the surrounding landscape.

Work on the new Sixth Street Bridge is still moving along.  Originally scheduled for completion in 2019, it’s now supposed to be finished by summer of 2022.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the progress of large infrastructure projects.  It’s also no surprise that the cost of the project has risen from $420 million to $588 million.  But even though repeated delays and cost overruns are fairly common with projects of this kind, it seems like LA is especially prone to these problems.  (I guess it could be worse.  Just take a look at the California High Speed Rail.)

LA River running beneath the Sixth Street Bridge.

When the bridge is done, there are plans to create a 12-acre park within the bed of the LA River, with public art and recreational programs.  I hate to be cynical, but it will be interesting to see what actually materializes.  While the FTA and CalTrans are helping with funds for the construction of the bridge, I don’t know if they’re also kicking in for the park.  I mention this because the LA Recreation & Parks Department is chronically underfunded, and can’t even maintain existing parks.  I’m also concerned because it seems some of the features that were supposed to be included in the new bridge have been cut.  The original design had protected bike lanes.  Apparently those are gone.  And I’ve seen some chatter on-line about the removal of the stairs that would have connected the bridge to the park, but I haven’t been able to find any confirmation.

Downtown side of the bridge.

But the biggest cause for concern is that the completion of the bridge will bring further gentrification and displacement on the east side of the LA River.  Many residents of Boyle Heights and surrounding communities are worried that the Sixth Street Bridge will bring another wave of real estate investors looking to cash in.  The eviction of the seniors at Sakura Gardens is not a good sign.

Many people are excited about the new Sixth Street Bridge and its promised benefits.  I hope their optimism is justified.  When I first heard about the project years ago, I was excited, too.  I have to say that now my hopes are outweighed by a deep cynicism.  The City of LA’s leaders have been promising a more livable, equitable city for years.  Instead it seems that the population is increasingly divided and increasingly desperate.  Bridges are supposed to bring people together, but I’m worried that this one will end up driving people apart.

Can the City of LA Keep Growing If Its Water Resources Keep Declining?

The City of Los Angeles couldn’t exist without the water it imports from sources far beyond its borders.  While the ratios vary widely from year to year, on average we get about 10% of our annual supply from groundwater within the city limits.  The remaining 90% has to be imported from places hundreds of miles away.

Which means we really should pay attention to the Water Supply Alert issued by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) on August 17.  The entire State of California, and in fact much of the Western US, is experiencing extremely dry conditions.  At this point the MWD is asking for citizens, businesses and public agencies to make voluntary reductions, but there’s a good chance that stricter measures will be needed in the not too distant future.  Through careful planning and good stewardship, the MWD has managed to build up significant reserves which might provide a buffer for the next year or two.  But we can’t be complacent.  This year the California Department of Water Resources has cut allocations from the State Water Project to just 5% of requested supplies.  It’s possible that next year the allocation could be reduced to zero.  On top of that, for the first time ever, the Bureau of Reclamation has declared a shortage on the Colorado River.  Lake Mead supplies much of the water that Southern California relies on, and storage there has been declining faster than even the most pessimistic observers predicted.  Right now the water level is lower than it’s been at any time since Hoover Dam was constructed. 

Which leaves us with the LA Aqueduct.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Los Angeles business leaders were working hard to promote the city’s growth, but they knew that the area’s water resources were limited.  In looking for solutions to this problem, they set their sights on the Owens Valley, over 200 miles away.  Using secretive and dishonest means, the City of LA managed to purchase rights to much of the water in the Owens Valley, and then began construction of the LA Aqueduct under the supervision of William Mulholland.  In LA the completion of the Aqueduct was hailed as an engineering marvel, and for a time Mulholland was celebrated as a hero.  Needless to say, the people of the Owens Valley didn’t see things quite the same way.  For them, the diversion of water resources to the Aqueduct resulted in disastrous environmental impacts, and set the stage for decades of litigation.

Mulholland Memorial Fountain from DWP Photo Collection at LA Public Library

In 1940, five years after Mulholland’s death, a fountain was built at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and Riverside Drive to honor the man primarily responsible for the construction of the LA Aqueduct.  The choice to create a fountain was considered a fitting way to commemorate the role Mulholland played in securing the water that was necessary for the city’s growth.  For decades cool, crystalline plumes arched into the air and cascaded into the rippling pool below.

Today the fountain is dry and it’s surround by a chain link fence.  While a search on the net didn’t reveal any explanation, it seems likely that LADWP shut it down in response to the looming water shortage.  This is certainly a sensible step to take, but it should also raise questions about LA’s future.  Mulholland was celebrated because of his efforts to provide water that would support the city’s growth.  If the fountain is now dry, maybe this should be a cue to start asking how much LA can realistically grow in the future?

While government officials and the media routinely describe the situation as a drought, I don’t think that’s accurate.  In fact, I think it’s seriously misleading.  “Drought” is generally defined as a prolonged period of dry weather.  This implies that at some point the drought will end and things will get back to normal.  But there’s growing evidence that this is the new normal.  Both the State Water Project and the LA Aqueduct are fed by snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas.  The Sierra snowpacks have been declining for years, and climatologists predict that they’ll continue to decline for the foreseeable future.  As for the Colorado River, California, Nevada and Arizona draw more water from this resource than it can deliver on an annual basis.  The construction of Hoover Dam masked this fact for decades, but the rapid decline of Lake Mead should be a wake-up call for all of us.  Right now it seems inevitable that water allocations to all three states will have to be reduced, but this will be a long, contentious, brutal process. 

So if all of the city’s water resources are declining, our public officials need to let go of the myth that LA can keep growing forever.  LA’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) assumes that all it will take is more stormwater capture and a concerted effort to conserve.  Unfortunately, stormwater capture doesn’t really work when you’re hardly getting any rain.  And while Angelenos have shown a willingness to save water in the past, current forecasts seem to indicate that we’d have to push conservation to a whole new level.  The more you cut, the harder it is to cut further.  The UWMP’s conservation projections are extremely optimistic.  It’s hard to say whether they’re realistic.

The Mulholland Memorial was intended as a monument to the man who oversaw the construction of a massive infrastructure project that allowed the city to grow rapidly.  In the state it’s in now, it seems more like a monument to the folly of those who believed you could build a city of 4,000,000 people in an area with minimal water resources.

Rollout of Service Changes Shows Why Metro Ridership Keeps Declining

On Sunday, June 27, LA Metro rolled out a sweeping program of changes to its bus system.  On Monday, June 28, I got off Line 94 at Tuxford and San Fernando to transfer to the 152.  There was a sign that said….

“We’re making changes to this bus line or stop.”

That was all.  No specific info.  I was a little worried at first, wondering if the stop might have been eliminated.  But I told myself that wouldn’t make sense.  If Metro had discontinued the stop, surely they would have removed the signage for the 152, or at least covered it with a notice saying the bus wouldn’t pick up passengers there any more.

I was so wrong.  The stop had been discontinued.  And this wasn’t the only instance where Metro had failed to update signage before implementing its service changes.  Apparently there were a lot of problems with the updates to the bus system, and riders have been expressing their frustration on social media.  Riders Kenny Uong and Keegan both tweeted about failures to update signage at stops.  And a number of riders vented their frustration over service changes and cancellations at Metro’s blog The Source.  Here’s a sample….

ladylee1969

As one who relies on public transportation everyday, I find the cancelation of route 236 upsetting and disconcerting by MTA. Many people uses the route pass foothill to get to work. I had sent an email to some of the board of supervisors and the Mayor’s office. NOT ONE ANSWERED!!!!

Marc

The rerouting of 236, cutting off people from their jobs is a terrible idea

Al

New route 237 fails to provide local service between NoHo station to Ventura via Vineland. By forcing people to walk or be forced to use the Subway and connect to other buses is time consuming. Having the New 237 end at Universal Station would have been a better and viable choice. The other route provides a haphazard service along vineland to burbank airport.

Wes

Thanks for cutting the 720 off from East LA, been riding that line since it started and I was in high school. Still depend on it to get to work on the west side so now your adding more time by making me and others take two buses. All these cuts you’re making are asinine, as always you prove to outdo your incompetency Metro.

Upset line 83 rider

Why discontinue line 83?? I travel everyday from downtown LA to York Blvd and now I will be forced get off the 81, which seems to be the only line going close and wait and transfer to another line, it takes time as it is and I don;t even think the new line 182 will run every 5-10 minutes, discontinuing line 83 will disrupt schedule for many riders, I’ve been talking to people in the bus and we’re not happy about it. This is crazy.

Jason

Metro really needs to have staff (supervisors, ambassadors, etc) drive around the canceled bus lines / stops / segments. The signs that are strapped to the pole are not enough. And no, not everyone has a smartphone. Even if they do, they may not be following Metro or aware of the shakeup. I saw people standing at some bus stops under extreme heat yesterday waiting for the bus lines that no longer exist.

Dan Wentzel

These service changes have unfortunately been poorly executed. I am hearing reports of stops throughout the system with old signage and the maps on Metro’s websites are from 2017-18.

This all should have been rolled out together in advance, especially if fares were to be reinstituted. The “Is My Bus Line Changing” webpage is clunky. New systemwide maps illustrating the new service reflecting the new schedules should have rolled out well in advance.

Streetsblog also weighed in, compiling an assortment of complaints, and lamenting the fact that Metro can’t even seem to issue a clear statement on what’s happening with fares.  During the pandemic, collection of fares had been suspended.  When the service changes were implemented, apparently bus drivers had different ideas about whether or not riders needed to pay.  As you can imagine, this resulted in a lot of confusion, and Metro’s communications on the matter did not make things any clearer.  Streetsblog ended by saying, “Sadly, this week’s failures are more signals that Metro continues to fail to prioritize its bus riders.”

I couldn’t agree more.  But actually, I’d go even further.  Honestly, Metro doesn’t seem to care about any of its riders, whether they’re using bus or rail.  If the botched rollout of these service changes was an isolated episode, that would be one thing.  But this is just the latest in a long line of failures. 

There was the disastrous reopening of the Blue Line in 2019.  After several months of partial closures for repairs and upgrades, it reopened in November of that year, and problems started almost immediately.  While Metro promised that service would be better than ever, there were numerous issues with gate crossings, power lines and signals leading to frequent delays. 

Then there’s the fact that Metro keeps pushing back completion dates for the new lines and line extensions that are being constructed.  Yeah, I know they had to deal with the impact of the pandemic, but the Crenshaw Line was supposed to be finished in 2019, before the pandemic hit.  Metro is now projecting they’ll finally wrap it up in 2022.  The Regional Connector was supposed to be done in 2020, but now Metro is saying it will open in August 2022.  While it’s true that large scale rail projects often run behind schedule and over budget, I have to wonder why Metro keeps promising more than they can deliver.  I suspect that when they first announce these projects they know that their projections are absurdly optimistic.  It’s easier to sell it to the public if you promise quick completion and low costs.  But when construction consistently drags on way longer than expected and the cost always goes way higher than the original estimate, the impression taxpayers get is that the agency is run by inept bureaucrats who don’t know what they’re doing. 

And this impression is reinforced by the fact that ridership has been sinking for years.  According to Metro’s own statistics, estimated weekday ridership for systemwide bus and rail went from 1,459,150 in 2014 to 1,174,751 in 2019, a 19% drop.  (I’m not including stats from 2020, because people were warned to avoid using transit due to the pandemic.)  Some folks like to blame the decline on a supposed passenger preference for rail over bus, citing growth on the Gold and Expo Lines, but actually ridership fell in both categories.  It’s true that the Gold and Expo Lines have been performing well, but overall estimated weekday rail ridership went from 351,833 in 2014 to 295,889 in 2019.  Certainly construction on the Blue Line was a factor, but the Red Line has been losing riders, too, and the numbers for the Green Line were down about 25% over the same period. 

To be fair, I don’t believe the loss of ridership is all Metro’s fault.  For years the LA Department of City Planning has been helping real estate speculators gentrify working class neighborhoods.  In the process, thousands of low-income households have been forced farther away from transit hubs like Koreatown, Hollywood and North Hollywood.  I remember a meeting of the Central LA Area Planning Commission where tenants who lived in a rent-stabilized building had filed an appeal of a project that involved the demolition of their homes.  One woman told the Commissioners that if she lost her rent-stabilized apartment she couldn’t afford to stay in Hollywood, and that would mean losing access to the transit she depended on to get to work.  The Commissioners didn’t care.  They denied the appeal, and cleared the way for demolition of 40 rent-stabilized apartments to make way for a new hotel.  Hard to believe that LA City Planning has been claiming for years that they’re totally committed to transit-oriented development.  If you point out to them, say at a City Planning Commission hearing, that transit ridership has been dropping for years, they ignore you. 

But we could also ask if Metro itself is driving displacement.  When you look at the decisions made by the politicians who dominate Metro’s Board, it’s hard to believe that their highest priority is creating a reliable, efficient transit system that will serve those who need it.  They’ve spent billions of taxpayer dollars building a massive rail system while making round after round of cuts to bus service, and ridership keeps sinking lower.  Are they really interested in getting people out of cars and onto transit?  Or are they more focussed on creating infrastructure that will promote new development?  Every time a new rail line is announced, real estate investors rush to snap up whatever they can in the surrounding area.  Numerous observers have pointed out the relationship between gentrification and new rail lines.  Maybe that’s really what it’s all about. 

Whatever Metro’s priorities are, riders don’t seem to be very high on the list.  The careless, inept rollout of the recent service changes demonstrates how little the Metro Board actually thinks about the people who rely on transit to get to work, to get to school, to do their shopping.  Far from trying to attract new riders, it seems like Metro is trying to drive people away.

Garcetti to Leave for India: Goodbye and Good Riddance

The Biden administration just announced that it’s nominating LA Mayor Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India.  Thank god he’s finally going.  Garcetti’s term in office has been a disaster for LA.  He’s spent the last eight years on a campaign of relentless self-promotion, while letting the city go to hell.  I only hope the Senate approves him quickly. 

Garcetti’s term in office has been marked by rampant corruption and dishonesty.  There was the brazen pitch for Turf Terminators in his 2015 State of the City speech.  The Mayor lauded the company for helping residents save water by replacing their lawns with drought-tolerant plants.  He neglected to mention that Turf Terminators had helped round up tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign coffers and the Mayor’s Fund.  Then, after sucking up millions of dollars from turf-replacement rebates and facing withering criticism for doing substandard work, the company quickly folded. 

Another ugly episode was the Sea Breeze scandal.  Developer Samuel Leung’s massive residential project was rejected outright by the City Planning Commission, but Garcetti stepped in and rescued the project, which was eventually approved by the City Council.  Later Leung confessed to money laundering, having funnelled over $600,000 to various officials through associates and employees.  Of that total, $60,000 went to a committee that supported Garcetti in the 2013 mayoral election. 

And let’s not forget that Ray Chan, who worked for Garcetti as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, has been charged by the Department of Justice with conspiracy, bribery and lying to federal agents.  The US Attorney’s office alleges that Chan was part of a wide-ranging pay-to-play scheme, where developers received favors in return for funnelling money to city officials.  Five of those charged by the DOJ have already entered guilty pleas.  Chan’s trial may begin later this year. 

If the City of LA was thriving, then maybe you could overlook a certain amount of corruption.  But Los Angeles is falling apart.  In 2013, the year Garcetti was elected, there were 29,682 homeless people within the city’s boundaries.  By 2020 that number had risen to 41,290. While the Mayor will now tell you that solving homelessness is his highest priority, he basically ignored the problem during his first term in office, focussing instead on jetting all over the country in an effort to position himself for a presidential run.  And at the same time as the homeless numbers were rising, Garcetti turned the Department of City Planning into a rubber stamp for high-end housing projects, driving gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods across LA.  

While he claims to be fighting for the environment, his record in this area is decidedly mixed.  It’s true that the he played a role in reducing the City’s dependence on fossil fuels to generate power, but he’s failed miserably in cutting emissions from transportation.  Garcetti has been claiming for years that his policies are getting people out of cars and onto transit.  Unfortunately, the facts show the complete opposite.  LA’s DASH system has suffered a huge loss in ridership, from 26,619,776 unlinked trips in 2013 to 19,292,677 unlinked trips in 2019, a 27% decline.  Having also served on the board of LA Metro during his term in office, Garcetti must take some of the blame for the fact that the countywide agency has seen an approximate 20% loss in ridership since 2014.  Metro ridership is now actually lower than it was in 1985, even though the County has added more than a million residents since then.  And while transit ridership has been declining, per capita car ownership has been rising steadily. 

The Mayor’s lack of concern for LA’s urban forest has allowed its continued decline during his term in office.  Under Garcetti, City Planning and Public Works have consistently been willing to let developers and others cut trees down whenever they feel like it.  While there are always promises of replacement trees, in fact there’s no real oversight, and the City doesn’t seem to actually verify whether replacement trees ever get planted.  Solid waste is also a huge issue.  It’s true that cities all over California are struggling to deal with refuse since the recycling market collapsed, but Garcetti seems perfectly happy to just ignore the problem.  The Department of City Planning approves huge new projects, claiming that 50% to 75% of the waste produced will go to recycling.  In fact, the City is recycling less than 35% of the solid waste it collects.  The rest is going to landfills, which produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.

I actually feel bad dumping Garcetti on India, since I know that country is facing huge challenges right now.  Hopefully he’ll just be following instructions from the State Department.  In some ways, his talents may be a good fit for a diplomatic post.  He dresses nicely, speaks well, and he’s good at reading from a teleprompter.  He’s also great at schmoozing, which I understand is something ambassadors do a fair amount of. 

But during his time as Mayor of LA, Garcetti has shown himself to be a soulless, spineless, shameless hack.  I can’t call him a public servant, because he has no interest in serving anyone except himself.  I’m praying that the Senate confirms him quickly, though it’s hard to believe Republicans won’t rake him over the coals with questions about the sexual harassment scandal he’s embroiled in.  They’d also be perfectly justified in grilling him over the fact that his former Deputy Mayor will soon be facing trial on charges of conspiracy and bribery. 

But hopefully they’ll approve him.  Hopefully he’ll leave LA quickly.  Hopefully we’ll soon be rid of this worthless parasite.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

We Need to Start Talking about LA’s Water Crisis Now

Map from US Drought Monitor, May 6, 2021

Most people who live in LA are probably already aware that this year has been an especially dry one.  We’ve gotten less than half of our average rainfall.  But it’s really important to say that it’s not just LA and it’s not just this year.  Actually, much of the Western US is dangerously dry, and there’s an increasing amount of research which seems to indicate that this could be a long-term trend.  In other words, it’s likely that things will continue to get drier and hotter in LA, California and the West. 

I’d been wanting to write about this for a while, but LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saved me the trouble.  He recently wrote an excellent piece laying out the serious challenges California is facing, both in the near term and the long term.  To put it briefly, all of California’s water resources are declining.  The snowpacks that feed our rivers and lakes are shrinking.  We’ve depleted much of the groundwater that was so plentiful at the beginning of the 20th century.  And because western states have been taking more water from the Colorado River than is actually available, we’ll probably continue to see reduced deliveries from Hoover Dam for the foreseeable future. 

This is all very bad news. 

Whether or not this dry spell is partly the result of cyclical changes in the weather, research increasingly shows that climate change is going to take a serious toll on LA and the West.  It seems inevitable that some farmland will have to be taken out of production, though that will be a difficult and hugely controversial process.  Many species of California’s trout, steelhead and salmon will probably be extinct by the end of this century.  And while we’ve all seen the horrific damage that wildfire has caused in California’s vast natural forests, we should also be worried about the less visible but still serious impacts to our urban forests.   

Here in LA we may be spared from having to take immediate action to deal with this crisis.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District have been managing our resources carefully, building up reserves that could see us through the next few years.  But I’m afraid this is creating a false sense of security.  The way it looks now, it’s not just a matter of riding out a few dry years until things go back to normal.  This is the new normal.  Even if annual precipitation stays roughly the same in the future, shrinking snowpacks and the decline of the Colorado River mean water deliveries to the LA will continue to fall, and we have limited groundwater resources.  Unfortunately, our local leaders don’t seem to want to deal with this situation.  LA’s Mayor and City Council have been silent on this issue, and I don’t hear anything from the Board of Supervisors, either.  Maybe they think that if they just ignore the problem it will go away. 

This problem isn’t going away.  We need to start dealing with it.  Hiltzik explains how serious and how widespread the challenges are.  The time to act is now. 

Water Created California and the West. Will Drought Finish Them Off?