Let’s Stop the Madness

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According to an October 2016 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 48% of US adults believe climate change is caused by human activity.  And yet millions of those same people get into their car every morning and head off for a commute that often involves a fair amount of time spent sitting in traffic.  We know that climate change threatens the planet, we know we need to reduce emissions, and yet we’re still locked into the same behavior that got us into this mess in the first place.

In the same poll people were asked what would make a big difference in addressing climate change.  Out of six possible responses, the first four were….

> restrictions on power plant emissions

> international agreements

> higher fuel efficiency for cars

> corporate tax incentives

The interesting thing here is that all of these steps would require the government to take action.  And let’s face it, the current administration isn’t gonna do a damn thing about climate change.  So let’s look at the last two responses….

> more people driving hybrids

> people reducing carbon footprints

The people who chose these steps were the people who were ready to take action themselves.  Switching to a hybrid is great, and getting an electric vehicle is even better, but a lot of people can’t afford to buy new car.  So what can they do?

How about cutting your driving by 20%?  Think about how you might reduce the amount of driving you do, either by taking transit, riding a bike, or walking.  Maybe you could find ways to car pool with your friends.

How many times have you been stuck sitting in traffic, staring at an endless line of brake lights, and thought to yourself, “This is crazy!”  And you’re right.  We say we want to fight climate change, but we’re stuck in the same bad habits that created this crisis.

So let’s change our habits.  Let’s stop the madness.

 

 

The Climate Is Changing. Can You?

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If you’re waiting for the White House to change its stance on climate change, you’ll be waiting a long time.  And whatever the oil companies say publicly, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the crude and the profits flowing.

So it’s down to you.

Can you cut your driving by 20%?  If every American citizen who believes climate change is a threat were to spend 20% less time on the road, it would cause a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  It would also send a message to Big Oil that we want a faster transition to renewable energy.  When their profits start falling, they’ll start listening.

So could you take public transit to work one day a week?  Or car pool with someone you know?  Instead of driving to the park this weekend could you ride your bike?  Instead of taking that epic road trip this summer, could you scale it back a little and go some place closer to home?

You can wait for the government or Big Oil take action, or you can take matters into your own hands.

Stopping climate change starts with you.

Pipelines Making You See Red?

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In spite of years of protests, the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines are both moving forward.  It’s obvious big oil isn’t listening, and neither is the White House.

So what can we do?

Use less oil.  It’s that simple.  Oil companies build infrastructure based on how much money they think they can make off it.  When oil prices started diving a couple of years ago, the industry cancelled or postponed construction of over 20 major projects.  There’s no point spending money on infrastructure if it’s not going to pay off.

What if everybody cut their driving by 20%?  The oil market is already shaky, with soft prices making investors nervous.  If we use less, supply will increase, and that will drive prices lower.  And it will also make oil companies think twice about plowing billions into building new pipelines.

So how about it?  Can you cut the amount of time you spend behind the wheel by 20%?  Not only would you be helping move the country toward clean energy, but you wouldn’t spend so much time stuck in traffic.  It’s win win.

Start Your Own Paris Agreement

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Millions of Americans are angry about the White House’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and certainly their anger is justified. But just because our government won’t take action on climate change doesn’t mean we can’t.

Cut your driving by 20%. If every American who supports the Paris Agreement were to drive 20% less, it would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are a number of steps you can take….

Take transit to work, or try car pooling, one day a week.

Ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week.

Walk to the market instead of driving. Or share the trip with a friend who’s also shopping.

Think about taking local outings instead of longer trips.

Use your imagination. Everybody’s lifestyle is different, but ask yourself if you can change your driving habits to spend 20% less time on the road.

If Americans cut their driving by 20%, it would not only send a powerful message to the White House, but also to the oil companies. As long as we keep using fossil fuels, they’ll keep selling them. A 20% drop in their profits would let them know we want a faster transition to renewable energy.

Start your own Paris Agreement. Commit to cutting your driving by 20%.

Columbia Square

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There are a number of different Hollywoods. It can be a noun or an adjective, a brand or a concept, a nostalgic fantasy or a nasty slur. But there’s also a physical place called Hollywood, and it’s been through a lot of changes over the years. About a century ago it became the center of the film industry, and what started out as a sleepy suburb grew rapidly. Its fortunes rose and fell as the studios left, radio and TV moved in, radio and TV moved on, and the internet conquered the world. For decades people have been asking how to bring media back to the Hollywood area to revitalize the local economy.

Columbia Square has played a key role in putting Hollywood, the place, back on the media map. Opening to great fanfare last year, the project brings together residential, office and commercial space to create a media campus. The owners were spectacularly successful in landing major industry tenants long before the project was completed. Columbia Square was widely hailed as a major step forward in Hollywood’s revitalization.

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The El Centro side of Columbia Square

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The front of the campus along Sunset

I have to say I’m pretty impressed myself. I was skeptical about how this modern media campus would come out, and I was pleasantly surprised. This was a complex project, and roused a certain amount of controversy when it was first proposed. But the developer did an admirable job, not just engaging the community, but actually responding to residents’ concerns. And here’s it’s probably a good idea to give some background….

Columbia Square, located on Sunset between El Centro and Gower, was first built in the late 30s by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Creating a major, state-of-the-art radio/recording studio in the area was seen as a boost, not just for Hollywood the place, but also Hollywood the brand. New York had dominated the national radio market since the beginning, but this was a sign that LA was trying to change that. The look of the building was an integral part of getting that message across. CBS chose modernist William Lescaze to design the project, and the building was one more landmark in LA’s long engagement with progressive architecture.

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The courtyard at the front of the complex

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Another shot of the courtyard

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One of the restored structures, now occupied by Neue House

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A view of the courtyard looking toward Sunset

As TV took over in the 40s and 50s, a number of popular shows originated from Columbia Square, but it was radio that kept hanging on through the years. Broadcasts continued to emanate from the studios until 2007, when the last tenant left. Then the building went dark, and for a while no one was sure what would happen to it. The property changed hands a few times, and different ideas were thrown around. In 2009 the City released an EIR for a project that included a 40-story tower. If you’ve been following development in Hollywood for any length of time, you can probably imagine how that went over.

But then a new developer took charge, and things changed dramatically. When Kilroy Realty Group acquired the property in 2012, they took the time to listen to the community and made some changes, crucially lowering the height of the tower to 22 stories. This is pretty amazing when you consider that the City had actually approved 28. They also decided to rethink the layout of the campus, allowing for more open space to engage the public. And they agreed to work with local preservationists to restore the historic Lescaze structures.

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Stairway leading to the rear of the campus

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A space to hang out in

The end result is a jewel. I’ve actually gone to Columbia Square a few times since it opened, just to walk around and take pictures. (And because the weather was different each time, the light in the photos keeps changing. Sorry if it’s a little jarring.) I think it’s important to mention the people involved in making this happen. The firm of House & Robertson designed the campus and the new buildings. In restoring the original structures they worked with Historic Resources Group. And the landscapes were created by Rios Clementi Hale Studios. The Los Angeles Conservancy was so impressed with the finished product that they gave the developer their 2017 Preservation Award. It’s worth reading the Conservancy’s description of the project to get an idea of how much time, money, and work went into the restoration process.

Columbia Square from the Los Angeles Conservancy

I’m so knocked out by the new complex, and by the way Kilroy approached the project, that I hate to voice any reservations. While I was writing this post I kept asking myself whether I wanted to make any critical comments, because in some respects the revitalized ColumbiaSquare is a model of what redevelopment should be. But there are a couple of things I think it’s important to note….

First, while the residential tower is beautiful, the prices are way beyond what the average person living in Hollywood could afford. And the addition of a couple hundred high-end apartments is just another step in the ongoing gentrification of the area. Even as I write this, more low-income tenants are being pushed out of their homes.

Second, while the City has tried to portray this, and other projects like it, as transit-oriented development, it’s highly unlikely that the people who live at Columbia Square will be taking transit on a regular basis. The City has been pushing this line for years, and the results have been disastrous. Transit ridership in LA is lower now than it was back in the 80s, and continues to decline. City Hall’s continued insistence that building high-profile, high-end megaprojects is going to get people on busses and trains just shows how clueless our elected officials are.

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The Gower side of the campus

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Landscaping and benches along Gower

But let’s end on a positive note. I want to congratulate Kilroy, and all the others involved, in coming up with a project that has so much to recommend it. This is an unusual instance where a major developer respected the local context, and more important, the local community. The new Columbia Square is a beautiful piece of design, and it’s brought some major media players to the area, along with hundreds of jobs. Over all, it’s an important step forward for Hollywood the brand, the concept, the industry, and the place.

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They Work by Night

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There was a night, maybe a couple years ago, when I was going home after visiting a friend. I was at a Red Line station, waiting for the train to come. There were probably about twenty or thirty people standing on the platform. But before the train showed up, an interesting procession emerged from the tunnel. A group of vehicles rolled slowly out of the darkness and into the light. One of them was a flatbed truck with a few guys in orange and yellow vests riding along. The people on the platform called and waved to them. They waved back. The truck kept rolling along, and so did the rest of the vehicles in the caravan, and in a minute or two they were out of sight.

Don’t ask me why, but after that happened I kept hoping I’d catch another glimpse of these workers and their machines. It’s probably a sign of how dull my life is that I get excited about seeing an MTA maintenance crew. But I guess part of why this caught my attention was that I’d never really thought about who kept the subways running. The city we live in is woven together by massive infrastructure networks, but most of us rarely think about how they’re maintained. We just want things to work, and we get ticked off when they don’t. But most of us are completely clueless about the massive effort it takes to keep LA running day in and day out.

So I kept hoping I’d catch another glimpse of the workers who maintain the trains. And since then, whenever it happened I snapped a few photos. As far as I can tell, most subway maintenance is done at night. These people spend hours rolling around in shadowy tunnels doing the many large and small jobs it takes to keep the trains running.

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A caravan of maintenance trucks.

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Another shot of maintenance trucks.

One night I got a shot of this….

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A rail grinder.

I’d never seen a rail grinder. I didn’t even know they existed. But they’re routinely used by rail lines all over the world to maintain tracks and increase their lifespan. I went looking on YouTube and found a video. Interestingly, there are dozens available. (I guess there are a lot of folks out there whose lives are as dull as mine.) The model you see here is different from the one I saw, but it gives you an idea of what these things look like in action.

Loram Rail Grinder

And if you want to find out more about what rail grinders are and how they work, here’s the article from Wikipedia.

Rail Grinders

Last weekend I was making my way down the stairs at the North Hollywood station and saw a couple of trucks on the track and some workers hanging out. I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. Then I thought, why not ask them what they’re doing? Turns out they weren’t doing maintenance, they were installing the hardware to make cell phone access available on the subway. I asked them if I could take their picture, and they said yeah.

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Here are the rolls of cable they’re installing.

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The point of all this being, this stuff doesn’t happen by magic. So many of the things we rely on every day, subways, cell phones, roads, sidewalks, TVs and water taps, are only there because people put them together and people keep them maintained. Most of the time the folks who do all these jobs are completely invisible to us. But I think it’s good to remind ourselves that they’re out there. They make the city work.

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Traffic-Oriented Development

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For over a decade people at City Hall have been talking about transit-oriented development (TOD). In theory, if we create high-density residential and commercial developments near transit centers, people will be encouraged to take busses and trains instead of driving their cars. Makes sense, right? So for years the City has been telling us we have to build up instead of out, that we need to go vertical instead of horizontal. And they’ve approved a slew of high-rises, all the while insisting that this will get people out of cars and onto transit.

Before I go any further, I’d like you to watch a video. It lasts about twelve minutes, and it was shot during rush hour not too far from Hollywood and Vine.

I hope the video makes my point clear.* The City keeps approving high-rises, and when communities complain that congestion will get worse, planners and politicians invariably say that the people who live and/or work in these buildings will surely take transit. But they’ve been saying that for over a decade now, and it ain’t working. The MTA station at Hollywood and Vine is a hub for a number of bus lines, as well as the subway. But these people are all driving right past it.

I’m not against TOD, but to make it work, you’ve got to do some planning. Instead of creating a well thought out framework for all this development, the City keeps dumping project after project in the Hollywood area. Mayor Garcetti will tell you that the City did produce the Hollywood Community Plan Update (HCPU), and residents sued to overturn it. That’s true. Among the HCPU’s many shortcomings, the population figure it was based on was inflated by about 10%, in spite of the fact that US Census numbers were readily available. The judge who threw the plan out called it “fatally flawed”.

To give you an idea of how little City Hall cares about planning, let’s go back to those two buildings in the video. The residential high-rise on the southwest corner is just getting started, and the hotel on the northeast corner isn’t quite finished. But look at how bad traffic is already, long before these projects are completed. Unbelievably, the City is considering approval of a third high-rise at the very same intersection. How clueless can you get?!

As I said in the video, I don’t own a car and depend on transit to get around. I support planning to encourage transit use. But TOD isn’t working in LA. Why? I think primarily it’s because that’s not really what the City is building. If our elected officials were really interested in building TOD, they’d be pushing high-density housing made up mostly of affordable units. But instead, the City has been encouraging developers to build high-priced housing by offering them generous entitlements.

I got on the Department of City Planning web site and took a look at multi-family projects in Hollywood and North Hollywood that have been built near Red Line stations since the subway was completed. The Lofts and The Gallery at Noho Commons combined contain 724 units. Eastown, when the second phase is completed, will have over 1,000. The Jefferson has 270, and is the only one that offers any affordable housing, 27 units. So out of about 2,000 apartments, only 27 are accessible to people in lower income brackets. And if you’re not one of the lucky few to snag one of low cost units, you can expect to spend at least $2,000 a month for a one bedroom. Let’s not even talk about what it might cost to live at The Vermont, which sits just across from the Vermont/Wilshire station. And call it a hunch, but I don’t think the massive Wilshire Grand Tower, which is rising up next to the 7th/Figueroa station, will be offering any affordable units at all.

According to a story published by the LA Times earlier this year (Measuring Income along LA’s Metro Stations, March 4, 2016), the median income in almost all communities served by the Red Line is well below the County median of $55,870, ranging roughly from $22,000 to $46,000 a year. (Universal City is the lone exception, with residents there making well above the County median.) For the people in the lowest income bracket, renting an apartment at the newer “TOD” buildings would consume pretty much all their earnings, and even at the higher end of the scale it would mean spending over half what they make in a year. The City says these high-density projects encourage transit use, but most transit riders couldn’t afford to live in them.

Could this be one of the reasons that transit ridership is lower now than it was back in 1985? There may be many reasons for the decline, but you’ve got to wonder why the MTA is serving fewer people than it did three decades ago. The drop in ridership is even more disturbing when you realize that the population of LA County (the area served by the MTA) has grown by over a million since 1985. Does anyone see a problem here? City Hall has been telling us for years that their policies will get people off the road and onto transit. Instead, we’ve seen a net loss in transit ridership since the eighties, in spite of the fact that the population has continued to climb. And the traffic that used to just clog the main thoroughfares is now spilling over onto side streets.

The City’s claim that they’re promoting transit-oriented density is bogus. What they’re really doing is allowing developers who spend a fortune lobbying City Hall to cash in on projects that don’t serve the majority of Angelenos. They’re backing projects geared towards the affluent, which is what developers want because that’s where the highest profits are. Meanwhile lines of cars sit on our streets and freeways at rush hour, burning fossil fuels and spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

You call this transit-oriented development? I call it a disgusting sham.

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*
Just in case you’re thinking traffic is bad because it’s a Hollywood Bowl night, it’s not. The video was shot on Tuesday, October 25. Nothing was on the schedule that evening. But I can tell you the back-up on these streets can get way worse when something is happening at the Bowl.

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