Monday, April 19, 2010

Houses and Tunnels

Houses: As the development and planning world scrambles to achieve the ultimate in the sustainability correct planning trends of the day, all in hopes of getting their unfair share of the vast quantities of borrowed foreign capital being promoted as "stimulus" and other funding by Washington, an occasional moment of reality can be glimpsed. It never lasts for long of course, the corporatist world does not financially reward such free thinking these days. After all, people do need to be kept on message. But the word does get out once in a while. Besides, nothing sustains failed business models quite as well as centralized planning backed up by lots of tax money. We have plenty of banks, mixed-use development emporiums, and auto companies that stand as proof of that. Stakeholders all in the debt economy.

In a March 18 posting on a blog run by the magazine Mother Jones, Kevin Drum discusses an often heard canard in the planning world, that the planners themselves are responsible for suburban sprawl. This popularly held belief being that "zoning and land use laws encourage sprawl, and if we did away with them we'd have a greater number of dense, walkable neighborhoods." That said, he then makes the following ridiculously reality-based observation:

There is a lot I could say about this, but that's a mistake in a blog post. So I'll stick to one main point: these regulations aren't something that's been imposed by "government." They exist because people really, really, REALLY want them.

I need to be clear here: I'm neither praising nor condemning this, just describing how things are. To get an idea of how strongly people feel about this, you really need to come live in a suburb for a while. But failing that, consider the balance of power here. Corporations would like to be able to build wherever and whatever they want. Wealthy land developers would like to be able to build wherever and whatever they want. And local governments hate single-family neighborhoods because they are a net tax loss: they cost more in services than they return in property tax remittances. And yet, even with corporations, wealthy developers, and local governments all on one side, suburban zoning is ubiquitous. This is a triumvirate that, under normal circumstances, could get practically anything they wanted, but in this case its not even a close fight. Suburban residents have them completely overwhelmed.

Kind of flies in the face of much of what we hear these days. The notion that people will somehow flock to new transit oriented development projects, in the process abandoning their single family homes and greenhouse gas producing automobiles for daily thrill rides on the various Metro transportation venues, is a near religious creed for many. After all, doesn't SB 375 preach that high density development and light rail will help save the world from global warming? We now have a new City Council in Sierra Madre where that facile ideology will be preached to us often, and whether or not there is much truth to it, there is still that little problem with what consumers actually want. After all, if people did want the swinging Metro lifestyle there wouldn't be quite the condo glut we can find in places like Pasadena, correct? Those unwanted units would have been sold years ago.

That's how strong the desire is for suburban sprawl. Again: I'm not taking a position on whether this is good or bad. And I'm not saying that everyone needs to understand what they're up against here. It's not zoning per se that causes sprawl, it's the fact that lots of registered voters actively want sprawl and have successfully demanded rules that keep density at bay. These kinds of land use regulations aren't going away without the mother of all knock-down-drag-out fights first.

Drum ends with this rarely asked but essential question:

... outside of a big city core, has anyone ever successfully built a walkable, high-density suburb? Not a village or a small town. I mean something dense and walkable: a place where sidewalks are busy, mass transit is good, and there are plenty of high-rise apartment buildings. I know the New Urbanist folks talk about this a lot, but do any actually exist?

Tunnels: A word you hear a lot of these days is "process." The concept of "process" is usually trotted out when something particularly unpopular is being marketed to a hostile public. The development of Sierra Madre's "Downtown Specific Plan" was a good example of "process." What this is really all about is holding off a skeptical public long enough to get the planning and set-up in place, then allowing the citizens to have their say, but only after everything is pretty much shovel ready. The ensuing pitch being that since everything is ready to go, and it really is such a wonderful plan that involved vast sums of money and a whole lot of time to create, why would you ever want to stop it now? Killing off an unpopular planning initiative is always easier in the early stages then it is after there is something tangible and complete to market to the citizens.

And nowhere is the "process" more evident than in that slowly creeping inevitability known as the 710 Freeway Tunnel. This boondoggle (present cost estimate $3.73 billion), would close the gap between the Foothill (210) and Long Beach (710) freeways. The years of successful opposition in South Pasadena to the completion of this project having literally driven it underground.

Here from a blog called The Source ("Transportation News & Views"), is a description of the next step in the 710 Freeway Tunnel process:

Looking to solve one of the region's most vexing freeway problems, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors will consider next week launching a new round of environmental studies on how best to improve traffic caused by the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena.

One of the organizations that has attempted to put itself at the forefront of sustainable (or "Green") development here in the Los Angeles region is the Southern California Association of Governments (or SCAG). So what are they doing getting into the freeway tunnel business?

The Southern California Assn. of Governments, which advises on regional planning issues, has long supported a tunnel. A recent draft study contracted by SCAG and using SCAG modeling data examined how a tunnel would impact traffic patterns in the area...

Isn't this the same organization that is pressuring so many towns in our area to accommodate high density development in order to create a transportation dynamic that will cause people to give up their cars and take things like Metro buses and the Gold Line? So why would they also be working to make possible a freeway tunnel, something ostensibly being designed to make motoring more merry and convenient? For an organization that claims to be able to peer into the future and deduce our planning needs for the next 30 or so years, this seems like quite a paradox, especially given the article's conclusion:

Generally speaking, many surface streets and freeway segments saw improvements in traffic flow, but it wasn't universal. A tunnel, the study found, may also increase traffic volume on the 210 north of the 134, the 10 east of the 710 and the 5 north of the 2. The study has not yet been published online.

Since one of the Sacramento mandated goals of SCAG is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the San Gabriel Valley through the building of high-density housing, which will supposedly cut down on automobile traffic, it seems odd that they would also be advocating the creation of a tunnel that would undo any of the purported good effects of all that development. A bit of a contradiction, as it were.

One more thing: We changed the title of this blog a little bit. Since Sierra Madre, the original home of The Tattler, has now elected a city council that will work to diminish the role of our city hall in favor of a more consultant driven regional government approach, we have decided to go regional as well. Many of the issues we face here are common to our neighboring cities, and we will be reaching out to concerned people there as well. Look for contributions from some of the area news sites, plus reprints and other features. There will, of course, still be a lot about Sierra Madre. But again, with our city soon to be folded deeply into the "collaborative" regional government system, that coverage will need to be expanded.


  1. Just the facts mamApril 19, 2010 at 6:30 AM

    ‘Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave, When First We Practice To Deceive!’

    Now there is going to be time to find out all the facts, I think we are all going to have some fun here in River City, look out truth here we come.

  2. JTFM: There is a line from a Peter Tosh song that your post reminded me of -

    "The higher the monkey climbs the tree
    The more of that monkey we all see."

    Well, the monkey is on the top of the tree now, and we are all watching.

  3. Someone please post where we can sign petitions against AB32 or SB375?

    We all need to get on board with this statewide protest against the regionalism.

  4. The Democrats in Sacramento are the creators of AB32 and SB 375.
    The only way to stop regionalism is to throw them out. But that will
    take a near act of God.

  5. The politicians in Sacramento do not represent the public. Doesn't matter what major political party they use to dupe the public.

    At least 80% of them are crooks.

  6. Joe Mosca is nothing more than a Sacramento guy in a foothill leisure suit.

  7. I do not expect much from this council. It will soon be apparent that they will not work well together inspite of their prostestations of civility during the campaign. I know these people as individuals and they kept a lot hidden during the campaign. Monkey at the tree top! How apt!

  8. I think we've seen enough of their "civility" in the weekly
    fish wrappers to know what a load of crap that one was.
    it is time to call their goon squad out.

  9. I will be waiting to see how they keep the promises they made to respect Measure V, and show how they are for slow, low density development.
    Goodbye Sierra Madre, you were such a comfortable, sleepy village....

  10. For those of you who would like to sign the petition to suspend AB 32, here is the link

    Jon and Ken will also be hosting a drive through petition signing in Orange County on April 23rd.

    Download the petiton and mail it in. Time is running out.

  11. What was interesting in this election was to literally watch a regional takeover unfold in a small community that made its position known regarding development, thus becoming a SCAG target.

    So, there's a really, really ugly monkey here that's clearly visible now.

  12. That tunnel is strictly for the port truck traffic connection. There's no way it's for use as a local freeway access corridor if there's no onramps.

  13. I think we need to make a Jon and Ken fieldtrip. The onslaught that has been unleashed by Mosca and his people upon the slow growth community here rivals anything I have ever seen. What is this, Berlin 1933?

  14. 8:19 --- this from the Pasadena Star News: "Proposals include one tunnel for northbound cars, one for southbounds cars, and a thrid for trucks."

  15. Right. The public should pay for freight infrastructure that the port will not invest in as they should, such as finishing the Alameda corridor and extending rail shipping to take the polluting trucks off the freeway. Talk about ripping off the public.

  16. Its always been about "freight", that is where the money is. We used to have passenger trains until the RR's discovered freight. We used to have Greyhound Buses until big rigs took over the freeways. We used to have airlines for passengers, now it is about bags "freight". The "710 Tunnel" is about freight. It always has been. The interesting outcome will be the 5, 210, as an idling parking lot.

  17. I'm sure truck traffic is the item that is the force behind this. But what happens to all that car traffic? A truck only tunnel would be politically dead in the water. There isn;t a single cite that I have seen (and I just looked) that backs that up, either.

  18. 12;07 pm, what do you mean "...outcome WILL be?" The 5, 210, and 134 ARE parking lots. Try morning or evening drive!

  19. Put the responsibility where it liesApril 19, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    My position would be that the freight carriers and railroads pay for the 710 tunnel, then maintain it (expensive and lots of liability). They would find out that it's far less expensive to extend the freight rail network and control it.

  20. Brightly colored pieces of plasticApril 19, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    A lot of this has to do with getting import products to American markets quickly and cheaply. I also think that since those manufacturing these products, particularly China, have a lot of influence in this country due to their willingness to finance our out of control spending, their demands get listened to. I have wondered how much of the drive to make this tunnel happen comes from sources beyond our borders.

  21. Scarlett T is for TattlerApril 19, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    Congratulations to the new improved enlarged Tattler, I am proud and humbled by the strength of it's editor and fellow tattlers.

    From a casebook in Urban Law, Metropolitan Organization, Organizational Adjustment, there is a paper titled "US Advisory Commission in Intergovernmental Relations, 1968 State Legislature Program PP. 388-91? subtitled "Regional Councils of Public Officials"

    For brevity, they started in 1954 in the Detroit area, ( and tattlers, do we know what condition detroit is in now) um hum..

    I would like to give it to the editor of the TATTTLER. If he will accept..

    The biggies then were Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Oregon and Washington DC,

    They do it for the funding, they get grants to handle grants.

    It cites Los Angeles as an experiment, The experiment became hereafter referred to as The Lakewood Plan, since there was a gap of incorporation between 1939, in 1954 when Lakewood incorporated it became of great significance as a testing groud zero, an in the growth of a county in Los Angeles.

    An impetus for the birth of cities... it also discusses the positions of elections and elected official behaviors...

    There is a reference to three categories of critical comments i.e. ineficiency, inequity and irresponsibility.

    Ineficiency, may refer to any of several economic leakages caused by strict adherence to a municipal-territorial principle* Inequity refers to the fortuitious and capricious distribution among fiscally autonomous units within an area of social and economic interdependence, of revenue sources and demands for locally financed public goods and services. Irresponsibility refers to the impacts which local-unit decisions have on interests which have not been consulted in their making. (you are a unit)

    There you go those pesky coggies which have grown out of control. There are pages of it, but very little on the internet. But our local SGVCOG has a banner advocating support for the 710 thingy, and are calling on MTA to do it..

    I really have to learn and look to keep up with you Mr. Editor and Merry Tatts.

  22. What I find astonishing about the tunnel promotion is the light-hearted skipping over the health consequences. Remember, published in the San Marino Tribune, the admission by the proponents of the tunnel that cancer and emphysema rates are higher by the mouths of such tunnels?
    So what are those diseases, the cost of doing business? The eggs ya gotta break to make the omelet?
    The people who advocate for the tunnels need to be the ones who live next to them.

  23. Scarlett T - sounds like
    the process to me!

  24. Kevin Drum wrote:
    "lots of registered voters actively want sprawl and have successfully demanded rules that keep density at bay. These kinds of land use regulations aren't going away without the mother of all knock-down-drag-out fights first."
    And wow have we lived that in our town. The fight against the DSP (remember the death grip Mosca & Bucahana had on releasing the EIR), the Measure V campaign, necessitated by Mosca's "reversal", the struggle to get the HMZ legit - tho plenty of people think a well-intentioned city attorney could have defended the original HMZ just fine - in short, all of the struggling that has gone on here for slow growth has been just what Drum describes, knock down and drag out.
    Wonder what kind of article Drum would write about hypocritical civility?

  25. fair memory skillsApril 19, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Seems to me that Ms. Barlow wrote a precise article about how light rail could be a beneficial solution for all.
    Probably made too much sense for our politicians though.

  26. also have lived here a long timeApril 19, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Local, you're right, it has been knock down drag out around here.
    Slow growth just got knocked down, but they ain't dragging us out yet.

  27. What L Barlow wrote about didn't include the huge developments our politicians are obliged to deliver for their patrons in the development
    and Realty industries.

  28. Sam brings up a good point. When a governmental body, or 2, knowingly creates higher rates of cancer & emphysema for people, are said bodies going to have to pay damages? Will the neighborhoods at the openings & exits of the tunnels wither & die out to be urban blech?

  29. I've got a good question for you 2:31. There are a lot of very smart people in this country. Why aren't they in politics?

  30. good memory skillsApril 19, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    I can already hear the engineers hired as consultants for the tunnel:
    "Nah, there's no earthquake threat that can't be mitigated"
    First heard that kind of consulting during the One Crater Stone hearings. Fire? Flood? Quake? It's OK!

  31. Smart people don't do politics anymore than Barnum and Bailey follow their circus elephants with a shovel. They hire people to do that work for them.

  32. Hey SnakE, I was actually thinking of a public heath specialist that I heard lecture at a graduation ceremony. This soft spoken man was a crusader against big tobacco, had spent his career doing it. And what a difference he made, despite the fact the his opponents were vastly powerful. So that guy - we need more people like that guy, somebody who is willing to persistently fight for the good, over greed.

  33. Mr Crawford, don't know what to make of your exposure of a contradiction in the SCAGian way of doing business. What would have been shocking would be a constance in their positions. Can't wait to see Buchanan greet Ikhrata with open arms.

  34. Great posts.
    Keep all this good information coming in.
    Welcome, welcome, welcome all you great people from El Monte, Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia and elsewhere.

    We need your input!

    Again, welcome aboard!

  35. Sacramento-SCAG-SM Council-CC & Frazzled Realtors,

    I bet you think its a lock. "Our Way or the Highway" (710). Best of luck on selling: rape of the hilsides, high density monstrosities, lying to attract funds, corruption that seems to follow the money, and the everpresent collusion to achieve financial gains. :(

  36. This phrase "soon to be folded deeply into the "collaborative" regional government system" gives me chills.
    Scary stuff.

  37. Yeah, that collaborative stew was really kicked off the first night Mosca was sitting on the council, and Bart Doyle pushed for the MWD hook up on Grandview. I believe one local called it the end of 75 years of water independence.

  38. I am for the common good, and I am generous with my resources in helping out my community. But damnit, I thought we as Americans were proud of individualism, of taking care of our own (and if everybody picks up their share of the responsibility, it works). In fact I think of Sierra Madre as quintessentially American - as one wise writer had it, it's the kind of town all Americans should have. So I don't get the rush to succumb to the state and its unfunded mandates.

  39. That's a grim future if it includes more consultants. The last two years our good slow growth leaders, MacGillivray, Watts and Zimmerman, broke the city's consultant addiction. Saved us a bunch of money and got people involved again.
    What do you think will happen now that the consultant happy pro-development people are in control? Could a missing audit be far away?

  40. The majority of people in Sierra Madre would rather believe in their own delusions and lies of slick realtors and politicians rather than believe the truth.
    John Crawford, MaryAnn MacGillivray, Don Watts and Pat Alcorn told the voters the truth.
    Their message, Sierra Madre will soon be:
    soon to be folded deeply into the "collaborative" regional government system"

    It was not a message the people wanted to hear in this troubled economy.
    It was more "comfortable" to believe the lies of Mosca and pals.

    The Tattler posters got it, we're in the minority now, but just you all wait.
    The naive masses will "get it". Hope it's not too late.

  41. You just keep believing that Sparky!

  42. ...and remember folks it is that first night that MOSCA was sitting on the council and Bart Doyle pushed for the hook up on Grandview, that we who had been told by JOE that he would work for slow growth, VOTED FOR THE WATER HOOK UP, we knew that we were had......

    since then we tried to warn the residents about turn coat Joe, and Joe and his friends turned it all around so well that they created great lies and stories to win the votes....

    it was so easy to convince the blind and the deaf, A wonderful lesson in how easily people can be lead. Very interesting. VERY..

  43. 9:33 Bart Doyle is finished in financial circles, savvy businessmen won't have anything to do with him over the Titan scandal. Since I live out of town, I don't know about your water specifics but Leung was a board member of upper San Gabriel water district I believe. Does MWD stand for Metropolitan water district, Anthony Fellows was in El Monte as a council person, and if you search their website there is a Michael Doyle in two stories. Doyle endorsing the school bond? Who Benefits?

  44. It may be hard to believe, but the dirty little secret about the 710 tunnels is that the cost is not $3.5 BILLION as stated by Metro, but at least two to three times as much. In 2007, SCAG estimated the tunnel to be $11.8 BILLION. How could anyone believe anything that SCAG, Metro or Caltrans says!!!

  45. Don't you think that we could find a better use for billions of dollars than a hole/tunnel in the ground that will only bring more traffic to the 210? How can we believe anything that Caltrans, Metro or SCAG says when they can't give us an honest answer as to how much the proposed 710 tunnels will cost. SCAG's estimate three years ago was $11.8 Billion. I don't think so!