High-Speed on the Horizon?

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Could we see universal high-speed connectivity come to Los Angeles in the near future? Maybe. The CityLinkLA initiative, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, aims to make internet access available to all. Here’s a brief outline from the CityLinkLA web site.

CityLinkLA is an initiative designed to address both the digital divide and our virtual competitiveness. Launched in 2014 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, CityLinkLA is an effort to encourage the private sector to deploy advanced wireline and Wi-Fi digital communications networks so that every residence and business in Los Angeles has access to world-class, high-speed Internet and at prices comparable to those in other innovative communities around the world. The goal is to provide basic access to all for free or at a very low cost and gigabit (1 Gbps) or higher speed access at competitive rates. CityLinkLA is envisioned to include wired gigabit access to every home and business and as close to ubiquitous wireless coverage for the entire City as possible.

First, let me say that I totally support the goal of giving everybody high-speed access to the internet. And I give Garcetti and Blumenfield credit for getting the ball rolling on this. High-speed connectivity will play a major role in making urban centers competitive in the future, and other other cities have already gotten the jump on us. Tech is something Garcetti understands, and he’s done a great job of luring tech companies to the LA area. Entertainment and media companies will also see the attraction of widely available broadband access. And I’m glad the CityLinkLA web site clearly states that one of the goals is to make the internet available to everybody, regardless of income or neighborhood.

But I do have a few reservations. There are different ways to wire a city for universal access. Take Chattanooga, Tennessee and Austin, Texas. Chattanooga’s network is owned by the city, and offers very high speeds to everyone for very low rates. Austin, on the other hand, is pursuing the same approach as LA. That is, inviting private industry the opportunity to do the job, in the hope that competition will keep rates low. And so far that doesn’t seem to be getting the job done. For details, check out the two articles below.

Chattanooga’s Super-Fast Publicly Owned Internet from CNN

Austin Shows Us What Broadband Competition Was Supposed to Look Like from TechDirt

Personally, I’d prefer to see LA offer broadband through a public utility, because I think it would lead to lower rates, more transparency and more control. Having said that, it’s important to note that Chattanooga is pretty small (population under 200,000) and LA is really big (population almost 4,000,000). There would certainly be huge hurdles to overcome in setting up a publicly owned network here. I’d like to know, though, if anybody really explored that possibility before opening this up to private companies.

My other reservation has to do with the fact that the City is offering some of its assets to the private sector in order to make the deal attractive. To a degree, this is reasonable, but I think we have to analyze this carefully to make sure we’re not compromising the City’s infrastructure or giving sweetheart deals to companies that stand to make a pile of money. In other words, we have to control the process, and we need to make sure we’re not getting ripped off.

I want to thank Stephanie Magnien Rockwell, Policy Director at Bob Blumenfield’s office, for her quick response to my e-mail asking for more information. She sent me the link to the council file on this initiative, which you’ll find below.

Council File: 13-0953, CityLinkLA

If you’re interested in getting more details, there’s tons of info here. It’s worth highlighting the fact that a number of neighborhood councils have submitted statements in support of the intitiative, though the South Robertson Neighborhood Council “requests that the City
include provisions protecting and requiring net neutrality”. Not a bad idea. For a thorough breakdown of the intitiative, click on this link to read the CAO’s analysis.

CAO’s Report on CityLinkLA Inititative

And here’s the link to the CityLinkLA web site.

CityLinkLA

This could be a real breakthrough for Los Angeles. High-speed access for all would be a huge step forward, but there are also huge risks involved. We need to stay informed and engaged as this process unfolds.

A New Vision or Another Con?

A view of the Hollywood Freeway from Franklin

A view of the Hollywood Freeway from Franklin

A while ago I was walking down Franklin around rush hour, and I came across a sight that’s becoming way too familiar. Looking down Vine, I saw a line of cars that extended all the way down the block.

Looking down Vine at rush hour

Looking down Vine at rush hour

I pulled out my camera, because I’ve kind of gotten obsessed with documenting traffic in LA. You probably think this is a pretty weird pasttime, but it keeps me off the streets. Oh, wait. No, actually it doesn’t….

Intersection of Vine and Yucca

Intersection of Vine and Yucca

Anyway, I walked down Vine taking pictures, and guess what I saw when I got to Yucca?

Cars lining up in the left turn lane on Yucca

Cars lining up in the left turn lane on Yucca

If you guessed another long line of cars, you were right. If you don’t live in the area, this may not seem like anything remarkable. But having lived in Hollywood for a while, I can tell you that this is a pretty recent phenomenon. Yucca used to be very quiet. I’d say up to three or four years ago Yucca was empty even at rush hour. Obviously that’s changed.

I kept on walking, and you’ve probably already guessed that when I got to Argyle, I saw yet another line of cars crawling along.

More cars backed up on Argyle

More cars backed up on Argyle

But the thing that surprised me was, traffic on Argyle was backed up all the way to Hollywood Blvd..

Still more cars backed up on Argyle

Still more cars backed up on Argyle

I walked up Argyle, shooting more photos as I passed underneath the bridge.

Traffic crawling north on Argyle

Traffic crawling north on Argyle

Then I was back at Franklin, and by now everybody knows what I found when I got there.

Westbound traffic on Franklin

Westbound traffic on Franklin

You may be asking, where were all these cars heading? Well, they were all trying to get on the northbound Hollywood Freeway. And traffic on the freeway was moving pretty damn slow.

Northbound onramp for the Hollywood Freeway

Northbound onramp for the Hollywood Freeway

I think we’d all agree that LA’s streets are way too congested, and we’ve got to start thinking about transportation in new ways. Cars are a dead end. We’ve got to stop building to accomodate them. The recent expansion of the San Diego Freeway showed what a waste of time that is. We can add as many lanes as we want, and they’ll all end up choked with traffic.

So some people see the City Council’s adoption of the Mobility Plan 2035 as a major step in the right direction. It sure sounds swell. With chapters titled “Safety First”, “World Class Infrastructure” and “Access for All Angelenos”, the MP 2035 paints a picture of a utopian LA, where everybody can get everywhere they want without ever needing a car.

But a lot of people are skeptical about the benefits the plan will actually provide, and I’m one of them. I totally support increased access to all modes of transportation, and if you take the MP 2035 at face value, it sounds great. The question is, will the plan deliver what it promises, and to answer that question you have to look at what our elected officials have actually been doing for the last several years.

Under the heading Key Policy Initiatives, the plan includes the following goal….

Consider the strong link between land use and transportation

No doubt about it, land use and transportation have to be considered together. For years now the Mayor and the City Council have been pushing transit oriented density (TOD). In theory, planning for higher density near transit centers will create a new dynamic where people will find using public transit preferable to driving a car. Now, if we were building affordable housing near transit centers that allowed easy access to the areas where jobs were concentrated, this might actually work. But that’s not what the Mayor and the City Council have actually been doing. Instead, they’ve been pushing relentlessly for high-end, high-rise housing that caters to people with six figure incomes. Check out the proposed 8150 Sunset, Horizon Hollywood and Shenzhen Hazens project in South Park for three examples. There are many more in the planning stages. Do the rich ride the subway? I’m sure some of them do, but let’s be honest. In LA, this is the demographic that is least likely to use public transit, while people at the lower end of the economic spectrum often have no other choice.

This is not transit oriented density. It’s profit oriented density. The Mayor and the City Council can tell us they’re linking land use to transportation to make transit more accessible, but recent history shows that this is mostly a con used to push through projects that only benefit developers who are looking to make a pile of money. Not only have our elected officials’ efforts to create affordable housing been pathetic, but by pushing gentrification in areas that used to be affordable, they’re actually forcing low-income workers farther away from job centers.

So if you ask me whether the MP 2035 will deliver what it promises, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Even before Garcetti became the Mayor, when his council district covered much of central Hollywood, he pushed through a number of “TOD” projects, telling residents that this would solve our transportation problems. Take a look at the video below and let me know if you think it’s working.

Campaigning for Re-Election on Our Dime?

Garcetti Logo Signs

If you live in LA, you’re probably aware that the City is using all kinds of media to get the message out about water conservation. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may also know that Mayor Garcetti is gearing up for his 2017 re-election effort. Why am I leading off with these two apparently unrelated items? Well, because actually it seems they are related. Even though they shouldn’t be.

I was standing at a bus stop where the bench displayed one of the water conservation ads. The first time I saw it I didn’t pay much attention. It was just another public service announcement, and I’d already gotten the message about cutting my water use. But after looking at it a few times, something caught my eye. Like most PSAs, it carried a few logos to let you know who was behind it. And one of them belonged to our Mayor.

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

You’re probably asking, So what? Shouldn’t the Mayor be throwing his weight behind this campaign? No argument there. It’s an important initiative. The thing that struck me was that the logo used here was remarkably similar to the one Garcetti used when he was campaigning for mayor in 2013, which is almost exactly the one that he’s using for his re-election bid.

Announcement from Garcetti's 2013 campaign

Announcement from Garcetti’s 2013 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti's 2017 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti’s 2017 campaign

If you live in LA, you must’ve seen it by now. A blue square containing the Mayor’s name in crisp, white, sans-serif type. There are a few different versions. The text varies slightly depending on when and where it appears. It’s a nice piece of design. It could suggest a clear blue sky, or crystal clear water, or a kind of zen serenity, or almost any other abstract positive association, which is one of the key concepts behind political advertising. It suits Garcetti perfectly. He’s a master salesman, and he’s spent several years refining his own brand. The hip, smart, 21st century guy who’s leading us all toward a brighter future.

All that’s fine. I congratulate the Mayor on his marketing savvy. But he should not be using a logo designed for his campaign on a PSA paid for by our tax dollars. Aside from the issue of using public money to support a private brand, this also confuses the City’s efforts to educate the public with the Mayor’s efforts to get himself re-elected. And this goes beyond the water conservation campaign. If you look at the City’s web page for the Mayor’s office, it displays the same logo.

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor's Office

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor’s Office

And the same goes for e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office relating to public business. I realized in the course of writing this post that I had been confusing e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office with e-mails sent by the Garcetti campaign. The headings are different, but the inclusion of the same logo on both makes it seem like they emanate from the same source.

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti's re-election campaign

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti’s re-election campaign

And this is really a problem. Eric Garcetti is the Mayor, that is, he’s an individual who’s been elected to serve in that capacity. But he is not the Mayor’s Office. That’s a separate entity which has been occupied by many people over time. To use the same graphic for communications from a politician seeking re-election and an office that exists to serve the people of Los Angeles creates a dangerous confusion.

If Garcetti is unhappy with the traditional seal for the Mayor’s office, he should ask City staff to redesign it, but it should be completely distinct from the logo he’s using for his re-election campaign. The Mayor’s communications regarding official business need to be clearly differentiated from his efforts to win another term. Sure, most politicians use their office for self-promotion of one kind or another, but we shouldn’t be subsidizing the practice. The Mayor needs to remove any graphics related to his campaign from all media used by the City to conduct official business. And he needs to do it now.

We Need to Talk about Water

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Recently I posted on Mayor Garcetti’s call for Angelenos to reduce water consumption by twenty percent. As a follow up, I’d like to draw your attention to an article posted by Jack Humphreville on CityWatch. The thrust of the article is that the Mayor’s creation of a Water Cabinet is an attempt to create policy without input from citizens.

Humphreville makes some excellent points. Certainly, given Garcetti’s record, we should be concerned about whether the City will shape its water policy in an open and transparent manner. There’s no question that the DWP will be raising rates significantly in coming years. To some degree this is necessary. Our water infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and we also need to invest in groundwater clean-up. But citizens must be involved in this discussion. A link to Humphreville’s article is below. It’s well worth reading.

Can We Afford the Mayor’s Mandate?

And here’s the link to the Mayor’s Executive Directive 5, which lays out all the measures he wants Angelenos to take to address the water shortage. Many of these steps are reasonable and necessary. It’s the creation of the Water Cabinet that’s worrisome. In LA, too many decisions are already made by insiders, behind closed doors. The Mayor often talks about how we all need to be involved in shaping the city’s future. I wish I could believe he really meant it.

Executive Directive 5

When the Well Runs Dry

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

Last week Mayor Garcetti asked Los Angeles residents to cut their water usage by twenty percent. Even though he was basically echoing the governor’s message to all Californians, this was an important step. Angelenos have slowly been climbing on board the conservation bandwagon, but we need to do more.

Over eighty percent of the water we use in Los Angeles comes from outside the city’s boundaries. The only way LA has been able to grow as large as it has is by siphoning water from the Owens Valley and the Colorado River. But due to the current drought, these sources are drying up. In addition, many of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are contaminated, and cleaning them up will be a long, costly endeavor. Here’s a sobering article from the American Society of Civil Engineers web site.

LA to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

Not only do we need to conserve water in the present, we need to plan for water usage in the future. The City should take a hard look at current requirements for new projects, and ask if there are ways to build structures that are more efficient. In general, we need to look at how future development will impact our water resources. The City needs to consider the cumulative impact of proposed projects on our dwindling supply.

Restaurants in particular should come under special scrutiny, since they consume a great deal of water in their day to day operations. There are a number of ways they can reduce their consumption. Replacing water cooled refrigeration units with air cooled units is a good start. They should also be required to use low volume spray nozzles for washing food. Composting waste instead of using a garbage disposal will also reduce water consumption. I know running a restaurant is difficult, and all these things cost money. Possibly the City could require new restaurants to take these steps, but allow existing restaurants to make the changes over time. And in the long term, adopting these practices will actually save restaurant owners money.

The Department of Water and Power building is a classic modern structure from the sixties, designed by Albert C. Martin & Associates. One of the key elements of the design is the reflecting pool that borders the site. It’s not just beautiful, it’s functional, having been integrated into the system that cools the offices. But it also plays an important symbolic role. Surrounding the Department of Water and Power with an expansive reflecting pool makes a statement about how an area with limited water resources was transformed into a major city, known for its lush green lawns and sparkling swimming pools.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the Los Angeles we’re living in today.

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The Changing Face of Hollywood

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Hollywood is hot. Developers are jumping in with both feet. A number of projects have gone up in the last few years, and many more are in the works. My feelings about the building boom vary greatly, mostly depending on the quality of the individual projects. Some of them will definitely benefit the community, some I can tolerate, and others should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Just recently Kilroy Realty unveiled their plans for a project on Vine, south of Sunset. Over all, I’m inclined to support it. As many people have pointed out, almost anything would be better than what occupies the site now. It’s an underutilized parcel, and Kilroy’s idea of turning it into a media campus makes perfect sense for the area.

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

But I do have a couple of reservations….

First, traffic.

Anyone who’s lived in Hollywood for a while can tell you that traffic is steadily getting worse. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Hollywood area lost over 10,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. So even though there are fewer people living in the community, more of them are driving. It seems probable that this is because the low-income residents who were forced out by rising rents have been replaced by more affluent residents who are more likely to own cars. The Kilroy project will be continuing this trend, since the residential units are geared toward people who have money to spend.

For those of you who don’t live in the area, here are a few photos of the northbound traffic on Vine on a Wednesday evening around 7:00 pm. These were taken at the corner of Vine and De Longpre, right across from the project site.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Same perspective as previous shot.  Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

Same perspective as previous shot. Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

This project will definitely be putting more cars on the road. What really concerns me is that it’s just one of many projects being considered for the Hollywood area. My point is that the City of LA needs to do a cumulative traffic study to plan for all this growth. The City argues they don’t have the money, which is ridiculous. They don’t have a problem throwing away millions of dollars on legal fees to defend projects that never should have seen the light of day, but they won’t spend a relatively modest sum to plan for a sustainable future. If Garcetti wants to push for big growth in Hollywood, he needs to start by springing for a cumulative traffic study that will help to lay the groundwork.

Second, the residential component of the Kilroy project is definitely catering to the crowd that makes six figure salaries. Again, it’s not so much that I have a problem with this specific project, but the vast majority of the residential units that have been built in the area over the past ten years are geared towards the rich. You can’t move into places like the W, Blvd. 6200 or the Avenue unless you have money to burn. This push to make Hollywood a playground for the wealthy is driving rents up throughout the community. It’s not just the low-income working class families that are being forced out. The artists, musicians and writers who used to live in Hollywood are having to look for less expensive places. The desperate drive for gentrification is great for bringing in the trust fund kids who want to party, but it’s pushing out a lot of the people who really enriched the local culture.

Over all, Kilroy seems to be making an effort to respect the community. This project is planned more or less within the current zoning laws, though the residential tower does go a little high. They’re including a fair amount of open space. It makes sense that they’re catering to media/entertainment companies, and, according to the LA Times story, there is a demand for office space in Hollywood.

So my problem isn’t with this project itself, but the trend that it’s a part of. Hollywood is becoming more expensive and more congested. The mayor doesn’t care. He’s got a mansion in Hancock Park and a driver that takes him wherever he wants to go, both of which are paid for by the taxpayers. So naturally Garcetti wouldn’t be concerned about housing prices and traffic, since he doesn’t have to deal with those problems.

Unfortunately, the rest of us do.

If you want to take a look at the LA Times article on the Kilroy project, the link is below.

Kilroy Unveil Plans for Complex in Hollywood

Let Them Eat Cake

Last week the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to raise fares. The cost of a monthly pass will go up from $75 to one $100, a thirty percent increase. The cost of a day pass will from $5 to $7, a forty percent increase. This is an outrageous example of a clueless elite making decisions with no regard for the needs of the population they’re serving. Citing the MTA’s own data, the LA Times reports that over 90 percent of riders are low income, and 80 percent make an average of less than $20,000 a year.

Supervisor Gloria Molina

Supervisor Gloria Molina

The Board projects a $36,000,000 deficit next year. They say that if they don’t raise fares they’ll be forced to lay off 1,000 workers or cut 1,000,000 hours of service. I don’t buy it. These are scare tactics. Gloria Molina, the one member to vote against the fare hike, offered a motion to investigate ways to cut the budget in order to stave off the increase. She couldn’t even get someone to second the motion. For more info on the meeting and the rate hike, you can access the MTA’s newsletter by clicking here.

It’s true that other cities have higher fares, because other cities have a more economically diverse ridership. In New York and San Francisco, a large number of well-paid professionals use mass transit for their daily commute. Not so in LA. The people who use public transit here are mostly on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Charging them $300 more a year to ride the busses and trains in many cases literally means taking food out of their mouths.

For me personally, shelling out $25 more a month is not a huge sacrifice. I prefer to take public transit, and I don’t mind paying a little more. And up until now, I was pleased to see the MTA aggressively expanding the transit network. But now that I see the price tag, my feeling is that they’ve been grossly irresponsible. They embarked on these ambitious plans knowing full well that it would put the MTA in the red, and knowing full well they were going to use that as leverage to raise rates. They’ve obviously forgotten who they’re serving.

Eight of the Board’s thirteen members are either serving on the LA City Council or the LA County Board of Supervisors. All of these people make around $180,000 a year. In addition, most of them use cars and drivers that are paid for by taxpayers. Why is it that decisions about MTA fares are made by people who only take the subway when they’re touting some new program or taking part in a ceremony? None of them rides the bus to work. Obviously Molina is the only one who has any concept of who it is she was elected to serve. She’s the only one who seems to care that for a family living below the poverty line, carving $25 a month out of your budget is a real sacrifice. This is going to hurt a lot of families, and the pampered elitists sitting on the MTA Board don’t care.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti

And speaking of pampered elitists, let’s talk about Eric Garcetti. It should be obvious by now that Garcetti doesn’t give a damn about anyone who hasn’t made a campaign contribution. He has a bold vision for an exciting new LA, full of skyscrapers and wine bars, boutique hotels and high-end clubs. And he’ll bend over backwards to keep his wealthy developer buddies happy, handing out tax breaks and giving them great deals on city-owned land. But he can’t even support affordable fares for the vast majority of MTA riders who really need them.

How did this guy get elected?