Darrell Steinberg Puts Meat on CEQA Reform Bones – And It’s Tasty

Apr 29th, 2013 | Posted by

Back in February Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposed a bare-bones framework for reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. SB 731 had to be filed by a legislative deadline, but Steinberg’s office needed more time to hash out the details of a good reform proposal.

He’s done that. Late last week Senator Steinberg provided details of the reform proposal. It’s really, really good stuff. Not only that, it’s generating support from environmental activists who had led the charge against the business coalition’s push for CEQA reform. What that indicates to me is that these are very good ideas that also stand a good chance of becoming law.

Excited? So am I. Here’s the key details of Steinberg’s proposal:

• Setting new “thresholds” for environmental impacts like traffic and noise that have become major obstacles to infill development projects. “Projects meeting these thresholds,” a statement from Steinberg said, “would not be subject to lawsuits for those impacts under CEQA.” (In its current form, the bill has avoided actually setting those thresholds, however. More on that below.)

• Reducing redundant CEQA challenges by limiting the types of lawsuits that can be filed in the late stages of a residential development project. When a project complies with a local plan and environmental impact report, the bill would disallow further litigation based solely on “new information” consisting of “argument, speculation, [or] unsubstantiated opinion” that doesn’t contribute directly to “physical impacts on the environment.”

• Streamlining CEQA for clean energy projects by establishing a new Renewable Energy Ombudsman in the Office of the Governor “to champion renewable energy projects.”

• Speeding up the administrative process for CEQA lawsuits through an array of procedural fixes—from allowing lead agencies to respond to CEQA complaints via the Internet to allowing courts to issue partial “remands” of only the sections of an environmental document that don’t comply with the law. The bill also directs the Attorney General to begin reporting to the Legislature “on whether or not CEQA is being abused by vexatious lawsuits.”

All of these changes make sense, preserving the core values and intent of CEQA while also facilitating projects that are good for the environment and that help reduce carbon emissions. These changes also appear to avoid creating new loopholes. All in all, it looks like the kind of CEQA reform many transit advocates have been hoping to see.

According to Justin Ewers at California Economic Summit, there’s one more piece that is the “biggest reform proposal” – one that warms my heart:

Buried in the bill’s legal language is perhaps its most far-reaching provision: The legislation would remove “aesthetics” from the CEQA equation for residential and transit-oriented developments.

As the bill puts it: “Aesthetic impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project within a priority transit area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.”

This would not prohibit a community from including local rules on aesthetics in their design review ordinances. But it would mean infill project opponents could no longer tie a project up in court simply because they don’t like the way it looks — something high-speed rail opponents in Atherton tried recently. This is a substantive change to the law CEQA reformers have wanted for years.

This alone is a hugely important reform, although the main four pieces as described above are also needed. Aesthetics has nothing to do with protecting the environment. It has no place at all in CEQA. Everyone should be united around this particular reform.

Bruce Reznik, one of the leading defenders of CEQA, had good things to say about Steinberg’s proposal:

Planning and Conservation League Executive Director Bruce Reznik said while the CEQA Works coalition he helps head is still going over the details of the bill, he’s “feeling pretty good about where it’s heading” based on what he’s seen so far.

“I think there’s actually quite a bit that we can get behind,” he said.

Reznik was especially complimentary of some of the proposed procedural fixes contained in Steinberg’s bill, saying they could do “a lot to improve things and modernize” the process for developers while maintaining strong environmental protections.

“Those are frankly from our point very important provisions that will actually do a lot to do what developers say they want, which is more efficiencies, make things quicker… without undermining the core principles (of CEQA),” he said.

So that’s a pretty good sign that the coalition of environmentalists and unions could be willing to support these proposals. Business advocates who had been leading the push for CEQA reform also issued statements of cautious optimism, though clearly they wished this would go further:

Carl Guardino, President & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group:

“We support Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and are committed to working through the process he has established for negotiating CEQA reform this year. We perceive the amended language of SB 731 as a step forward in what will inevitably be a long and thorough vetting of the issues and negotiations over final language.”

Gary Toebben, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce:

“We appreciate the Senator’s commitment to enacting meaningful CEQA reform this session that stamps out misuses of the law that are preventing responsible projects from moving forward, often times for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.”

“We appreciate the effort that has been put into the bill thus far. We still have a long way to go to achieve what can be called meaningful reform.”

While this proposal doesn’t include everything they wanted, it is also a very good proposal that will provide important benefits to businesses. It’s a significant improvement over the current law, which has become broken due to people using CEQA for purposes that actually harm the environment.

It seems to me that Steinberg’s proposal lays the basis for a meaningful CEQA reform that can command the support of environmentalists, unions, and businesses. That in turn should be able to help get it through a legislature with a Democratic supermajority.

There’s a lot in here for high speed rail and transit advocates to like, and we don’t have to pick sides to get it. Let’s hope that Steinberg’s proposals move forward with the broad support they deserve.

  1. jimsf
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 18:24
    #1

    This is great news, as long as cities can still enforce aesthetics by other means.

  2. Tony D
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 19:11
    #2

    Awesome stuff! Get er done!

  3. Alon Levy
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 19:26
    #3

    What is the standard for “argument, speculation, [or] unsubstantiated opinion”?

    Walter Reply:

    I wondered the same thing. I think the second part is also key: “physical impacts on the environment.” Together, I would guess that this would require those filing suit under CEQA late in the game to show a high likelihood of a tangible, actual environmental problem. In short, if a project is in compliance with an EIR, you can only file suit against it with data, facts, and evidence demonstrating real harm–courts will not entertain lawsuits rooted in pure conjecture.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “Physical impacts on the environment” include a lot of things, like the FUD about how trains of unknown shape would impact bees.

    In contrast, consider what Elizabeth said about the bidding process. She has a reasonable suspicion there, coming from the fact that in cities with a track record of cheap, within-budget construction, the bidding rules favor high technical scores much more than low costs. Contrary to what some people here who favor highway widening and oppose coal plant shutdowns say, this is based on something a bunch of us have thought for years – I know I gave her the article we’re channeling in 2010 or 2011, and I’d read it a while before then.

    Now, in the case of CAHSR, this is not a CEQA issue, but I could come up with a scenario of a freeway project in which it is, for example if there’s no extra money in the budget for mitigation cost overruns, or if the tolls can pay for the project only if it stays within budget.

    When I’m asking what the standard is, I don’t want to just hear “This is bad.” California’s setting a legal standard that distributes power away from communities and toward the state government. I don’t trust either side one bit, not with the revolving door leading to Chevron. I want to know how it will be applied to projects that aren’t CAHSR but that still get the full support of the state government.

    joe Reply:

    Currently CEQA is ambiguous.

    CEQA’s broad scope and lack of clear thresholds often lead to litigation, both by groups that support development, and individuals and agencies opposing such development.

    Attempts to accelerate the legal review were just declared unconstitutional. We need a systematic way to DECIDE with less delay and that means changing the law, not trying to accelerate the legal review.
    http://www.scpr.org/blogs/environment/2013/04/01/13127/superior-court-judge-rules-fast-track-law-on-ceqa/

    Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch has ruled that a provision of AB 900 is unconstitutional, meaning environmental challenges to certain large-scale development projects must start in the lower courts.

    Under the law, anyone suing to block a large-scale project that developed renewable energy or met green building standards had to bypass the lower courts and go straight to the courts of appeal.

    The law came about in the first place because politicians were trying to speed up approval of the proposed Farmers Field football stadium in downtown L.A. Other communities complained that was an unfair advantage, so lawmakers wrote another bill to speed up scrutiny for a whole class of large-scale projects.

    The ruling leaves in place some time limits and other fast-tracking mechanisms. It will apply to just two projects so far – a new Apple Computer campus in Cupertino and the McCoy solar farm in Riverside County.

    Delay via CEQA lawsuits and appeals is not pro-environment.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s pro-environment when what’s being delayed is bad for the environment.

    joe Reply:

    I have an example here:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0426-bullet-train-snag-20130429,0,4265519.story

    But Elizabeth Alexis, a co-founder of the watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, argued that the bid review process ultimately used was not properly authorized and that the Tutor Perini team’s selection should be invalidated.

    Alexis and other critics are concerned that the authority is trying to reduce upfront cost estimates at the risk of a lower-quality project or future increases in outlays to complete the system.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Think again, Joe. The technical term for what you have identified is called “bullshit”.

    Tony D Reply:

    Elizabeth is so full of $hitcrap its pathetic. The only rail design that she would approve of is one that is completely invisible..

    Joey Reply:

    Whatever their goals may be, CARRD has done a lot of important work with respect to transparency and public release of information.

    joe Reply:

    Yes they have helped get material out and so has Brown by putting in leadership that holds staff to a higher standard. Still they are opportunistic critics so i would NOT look at every attack as a way to improve the project.

    CARRD complained about cost – single minded attack and they now got what they wanted.

    Travis D Reply:

    I disagree with her take on things but she has been an important source of information.

    Walter Reply:

    Don’t give them any ideas, Tony. Tomorrow, Robert will be reporting on CARRD’s CEQA lawsuit contending that the Authority illegally chose visible trains without sufficient public input.

    StevieB Reply:

    The standard for new information necessitating a supplemental environmental impact report would require what the court would decide is sufficient evidence.

    StevieB Reply:

    The language of the bill is substantial evidence which it goes on to define. Substantial evidence includes fact, a reasonable assumption predicated upon fact, or expert opinion supported by fact. Substantial evidence is not argument, speculation,unsubstantiated opinion or narrative, evidence that is clearly inaccurate or erroneous, or evidence of social or economic impacts that do not contribute to, or are not caused by, physical impacts on the environment.

  4. Ted Judah
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 20:12
    #4

    The problem is Steinberg’s primary goal is to build a downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings, not build high speed rail. It also doesn’t help that the NFL is proclaiming the football stadium for downtown L.A. as dead-on-arrival because that makes Speaker Perez much less likely to support it.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I wouldn’t say that’s Steinberg’s primary goal, but it’s probably a factor.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    If you notice, Brown’s pet projects that could benefit from CEQA reform are officially “full speed ahead” without any need to deal with fixing the law right now: HSR, Peripheral Canal, Fracking rules.

    It’s only the big city Legislators that still want CEQA fixed because they need to get projects done that redevelopment money used to grease the wheels with and there’s no real threat of Walmart putting a Supercenter on Pier 32….

    It’s the Lois Wolks, Ted Lieus, and DeSaluniers who have suburban districts that don’t want any changes because they can’t figure out how to have more growth without letting in Walmart which is Kryptonite to organized labor…..

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Do the suburban districts give the slightest fuck about organized labor?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The answer for those suburban districts is to build higher. That’s good for the environment while not opening the door to a Supercenter.

    jimsf Reply:

    Why exactly do suburban areas and valley cities, build out instead of up?
    Is it because land is cheaper than high rise construction?
    Is it because suburban and valley people simply prefer a low rise aesthetic? (or oppose height)
    Is it because developers only know how to do what is already done and can’t think of anything new?( I doubt this)
    I visit the valley on a regular basis and nothing is changinge. Orchard after Orchard is being converted to stucco subdivision after subdivision, and these homes sell out as fast as they build them. ( Ive been house shopping)

    And why do suburan and valley cities, while all making feeble attempts to “revive” their downtowns in order to get some capture some “big city hipness” continue to undermine their own efforts by approving shopping center after shopping center on the edges.

    It is a democracy after all, so either the residents want it, or they don’t care one way or the other.
    My sense is that people who live in those places live there because thats how they prefer to live because when you suggest something innovative they will poo poo it.

    TomA Reply:

    Its cheaper. For most people the first concern is money. Its why Walmart and McDonalds exist.

    Derek Reply:

    Undemocratic laws are undemocratic even when they were approved by the people. For example, the supermajority requirement to approve a tax increase, or overbearing zoning laws.

    Replacing the sales tax with a higher property tax would eliminate the incentive for cities to attract big-box stores, but good luck getting a supermajority to approve that. Eliminating minimum parking requirements would make land too efficient to put up a Wal-Mart and its wasteful sea of asphalt, but this requires a change to zoning laws.

    HSR has the potential to change the way we build cities. Instead of building a freeway and massive amounts of parking to support it, all we need is a train station with a rail line going through it. Significantly less parking is required because people don’t have to drive to get there, allowing more vertical, pedestrian-oriented development than what can be achieved without HSR. But the question is, will cities allow it, or will they continue forcing automobile-dependent lifestyles and Wal-Marts on its citizens?

    jimsf Reply:

    I agree with what you say except that cities are run by people and are subject to voters, cities don’t force things on citizens, cities respond to citizens demands. city departments are run by and staffed by city residents. Residents have a say in what happens.
    apparently the problem is that the majority people simply don’t give a shit about any of this. They just want their cheap crap from walmart. period.
    I don’t suppose anything can be done about that. if you try to forced them to change they will vote you out.

    Derek Reply:

    No forcing necessary. Quite the opposite. Simply abolish laws and regulations that force them into their current lifestyles.

    jimsf Reply:

    you can’t just say “abolish laws” who is going to abolish them? you? I mean in order to get the people who do the abolishing to do it, you have to convince them. That means constituents have to say “hey lawmaker dude, you need to abolish this” and the constituents, are the one who don’t want to change.

    I must add, that the example i used was hanford( and fresno was part of that conversation as well) but what also came up is that in visalia and exeter, they actually are making serious attempts at infill, downtowns, and climate change.

    so its varies from town to town.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In a fully liberalized housing situation, Hanford is probably going to look about the same as it looks today. At low congestion levels, cars and sprawl are cheap. It’s the big metro areas that would see densification and reduction in exurban sprawl. LA would get taller buildings in the Basin and the more urbanized parts of the Valley, instead of more sprawl in the Antelope and Victor Valleys, because nobody in their right mind likes driving an hour and a half to work in each direction.

    jimsf Reply:

    Or by the same token, jobs will move to victor and antelope just as jobs will move to the central valley because the cost of doing business will be lower. the answer isn’t to cram everyone into one place, the answer is bring about more balance of jobs and housing throughout the state so that people don’t have to commute an hour.

    jimsf Reply:

    Fresno is off to a good start with the loft district adjacent to the stadium and future hsr station.

    The problem with downtown fresno is the crime. I they can clean it up, people will go down there.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “At low congestion levels, cars and sprawl are cheap”

    Well, apart from gas prices. But yeah, changes in housing rules aren’t going to change the sprawl situation in places like Hanford. High gas prices can and will, and I think that’s part of what’s driving the city governments of Visalia and Exeter.u

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    High gas prices mean you eat it until you can get a car that gets better gas mileage. And the car after that is a hybrid or even a plug in hybrid and you buy gas once a quarter.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Walmart would lease half it’s parking lot to a medium-box store or decide that they could make more money by turning the supermarket part of the store back into selling cheap shit from China and lease it to a supermarket.

    jimsf Reply:

    Well using hanford as an example, I just had long chat with a friend from hanford and I posed the question and got a half hour long, in depth response.

    Why do cities such as hanford talk about downtown but never get it off the ground” Here are the reasons given:

    -residents prefer the cheap and easy of walmart and mcdonalds. They are not intersted in the downtown lifestyle.
    -the city is run by a good old boy network
    -The city is hooked on the easy tax revenue that comes with big box and retail development.
    -residents don’t like going to downtown areas due to crime, panhandling and other things they deem to be unpleasant. They prefer the shiny new big boxes.
    -lack of parking and or cost of parking.
    -people are not interested in personal customer service of mom and pop businesses, they want fast and cheap above all else.
    -federal ada requirments make opening small businesses in the older building cost prohibitive. Several places have had to close, or been unable to reopen due to ada retrofit costs.
    -infill development won’t succeed because people don’t like the vibe of the downtown, and there’s nothing there.

    Those are the reasons I was given. The bottom line boils down to people simply don’t care about the issue and they want to go to walmart and costco and don’t want to hear anything else.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    -lack of parking and or cost of parking.

    That usually means “I couldn’t find a parking space right in front of the door so instead of parking a block away I went to Walmart and walked 8 blocks to what I wanted and 8 blocks back to the car”

    Cost of parking usually means “I had to put a quarter in the meter for two hours of parking”

    jimsf Reply:

    well, Im not arguing what it means. I’m just reporting on what I heard from interviewing a couple hanford folks who are actually dismayed by the lack of downtown. These are the reasons they hear from other locals.

    So if you have a city full of people who like it just the way it is, then you are pretty much doomed to having it just the way it is. You can lead a horse to water…actually, you can’t even do that.

    Truth is, I just came back from walmart myself. I can’t stand the place, but the fact is the 3 dollar item I bought was 5 dollars at nearby kmart and 6 dollars at walgreens. so I stomach the place and go in. just like I put up with blemished apples for 99 dents a pound instead of buy the pretty ones for 1.99 a pound. I guess it really is about the money.

    Travis D Reply:

    It could also mean parallel parking. I know many people who refuse to shop anywhere that requires parallel parking. They want nice wide parking spaces that are easy to pull into and out of. Hell my mom only uses that kind of parking and she still almost always screws up her park job.

    Oh and don’t discount the ADA thing. I’m working with people who are trying to revitalize our own downtown and one of the surprising things we discovered was that it would be cheaper to tear down all our old buildings and build new than to convert the existing buildings into ADA compliant ones.

    And bringing this back to parking, we circulated lots of surveys and one of the more common things said was that they would only shop in the downtown area if a parking structure was built even if it charged money while street parking was free!

    People hate parallel parking to the point they would rather spend more money to avoid it.

    jimsf Reply:

    wow yes, the ada thing again, exactly what I was told, specifically they “blame the federal government” for that…. in addition to local fees and permits required. All costs that would be small businesses apparently can’t afford.

    So what is the solution? Or maybe there isn’t one.

    Derek Reply:

    Buildings under renovation don’t need to be fully ADA compliant. No more than 20% of renovation costs need to be spent on ADA compliance.

    jimsf Reply:

    Derek Reply:
    April 30th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Buildings under renovation don’t need to be fully ADA compliant. No more than 20% of renovation costs need to be spent on ADA compliance.

    well how do you explain the business who gave up trying to reopen because they coudn’t afford the ada requirments? just wondering.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They were looking to close down anyway and couldn’t find someone who could make lightening strike?

    jimsf Reply:

    I guess. Again im just wondering about what I was told per the original question..

    why would a city that purports to want to enliven its downtown, continue to allow business to be sucked out to the edges.

    To me, common sense would come into play. There must be something in the cow emissions.

    jimsf Reply:

    The nearby city of exeter created a downtown mural district and enterprise zone.

    Derek Reply:

    Parallel parking ought to be abolished. Besides the difficulty getting in and out of unmarked parallel parking spaces, the other problem is that they are unsafe for bicyclists who don’t know better than to ride in the door zone. (Bike lanes striped in the door zone don’t help matters any.)

    Angled parking eliminates the door zone and makes maneuvering easier. Pulling into “head out” angled parking is easier and safer than backing out of “head in” angled parking.

    So instead of putting parallel parking on both sides of the street, cities ought to put “head out” angled parking on alternating sides of the street, creating a series of chicanes to give the illusion of speed in order to calm traffic. It also improves sight lines, making the street more interesting.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Angled parking also gives the street a more suburban feel. Parallel parking on both sides puts cars close enough to building lot lines (assuming normal sidewalk width and building height that’s proportionate to the street width) that they feel like they’re enclosed and don’t speed too much. But at the same time it separates them by a car width from the sidewalks. A sidewalk that directly abuts a moving lane is not as pleasant for the pedestrian to walk on, so you might as well use the dead zone next to the moving lanes for parking.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and horrors, people who expect to park right in front of the door would have to cross the street half of the time.
    … the parked cars do make an effective barrier between the pedestrians and the moving cars…..

    Nathanael Reply:

    Parallel parking is what there is room for in most older Northeastern cities. Often there’s only room for parallel parking on *one side of the street*, actually.

    The alternative is no parking. But that’s not really a good idea in areas which don’t have the density to support streetcars.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    places that don’t have the density for buses are the kind of places that have plenty of space for parking.

    blankslate Reply:

    As a cyclist, I strongly disagree – I vastly prefer biking on streets with parallel parking to angled parking. Angled parking presents an uneven, jagged right edge to the bike zone, with the inevitability that mini coopers will be hidden by Dodge Caravans. Parallel parking is much easier to negotiate and makes every car equally visible. The remedy to the fact that bicyclists “don’t know better than to ride in the door zone” is to educate them not to ride in the door zone. Oh, and as to “the difficulty getting in and out of unmarked parallel parking spaces”? Get over it. It’s not that difficult for anyone who’s done it a few times, if you are going to live in a city, buy a small car and learn how to park.

    JOE Reply:

    Blankslate’s right – parallel parking is safer for biking. There’s more space used for cars vs parallel parking and widening the sidewalks.

    Parallel and wide sidewalk. Street dining
    MTView http://goo.gl/maps/Y4X1R

    Diagonal
    Gilroy http://goo.gl/maps/u7wNn

    Hybrid
    Plao Alto http://goo.gl/maps/hm5pu

    Derek Reply:

    The remedy to the fact that “angled parking presents an uneven, jagged right edge to the bike zone” is to educate bicyclists not to ride in the bumper zone.

    joe Reply:

    How bike riders mitigate the risks parking pose is independent of the fact different parking pose different risks – some create more risks than others.

    I am however deeply disappointed you haven’t written that parallel parking uses less space than diagonal. That parallel allows larger sidewalks. The economic implications are enormous.

    Derek Reply:

    “head out” angled parking on alternating sides of the street

    Also allows wider sidewalks.

    blankslate Reply:

    The remedy to the fact that “angled parking presents an uneven, jagged right edge to the bike zone” is to educate bicyclists not to ride in the bumper zone.

    You are ignoring what I said about varying car lengths. If the right edge of the “bumper zone” changes from car to car it is harder to tell where you should be. Let me put it this way. A Fiat 500 is 11′ 8″ inches long. A Chevy Suburban is 18′ 6″ long. At 45 degree angled parking, the corner of the Fiat is protruding about 8′ from the curb and the Suburban is protruding 13′ from the curb. By contrast, the variance in width from a Fiat to a Suburban is only 1′ 3″. Angled parking offers much less clarity than parallel parking about where the cyclist should be, on the part of both the cyclist and -importantly! – motorists. And if you stripe a bike lane, you have to either waste space by making it far enough from the curb to accommodate the longest vehicles, or size it for average vehicles and then you have vehicles sticking out into the bike lane.

    Let me be clear, both situations require education, but in the case of parallel the solution is much simpler and is always exactly the same (just pick a spot 4-6′ left of the doors and stay there).

    “head out” angled parking on alternating sides of the street

    Also allows wider sidewalks.

    But parking on only one side provides less parking, since on average, car width plus door opening space is more than half of car length plus parkable buffer.

    Plus, it removes the parked car buffer between pedestrians and cars on one side of the street, making it feel more like an expressway than an urban street. And the other side now feels more like a suburban parking lot than an urban street.

    jimsf Reply:

    But Im seriously posing the question.

    how can you make people change when they don’t want to or can’t afford to especially if they react to any forced change by voting you out?

    Are hanford and other cities like it just plain doomed to become mini fresnos?

    Derek Reply:

    You have to convince people that freedom is a good thing, and that those who disagree should bear the burden of proof.

    jimsf Reply:

    yes but they equate freedom with driving. And I understand why. As much as I hate paying for a car, the fact is I would be trapped without one, unable to get to work, unable to get errends done, and unable to see my partner, and unable to afford any getaways.

    So I guess you can’t blame them.

    Derek Reply:

    If you would feel trapped without a car, it sounds like you’re trapped with one.

    joe Reply:

    http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=1655

    Fremont CA, an accretion of five smaller cities did not develop a down town.

    The city residents now want one and it’s being built.

    Eventually this will happen in the CV.

    jimsf Reply:

    whatever the semantics don’t matter. The question is, and no one seems to have a valid answer, what do you do with cities similar to hanford where people seem to like it the way it is, seems to equate cars with freedom, and who prefer everything to be cheap and easy (walmart, costco, mcdonalds) and who vote in way that gets those desires met?

    and yes Id rather I didn’t have to have a car, but I don’t want to live smashed into a city with a million other people, and be surrounded by filth, crime, and other unpleasantries.

    God forbid we figure out how to create nice, liveable, green, small pleasant cities connected together by hsr. Everything is so extreme, either massive sprawl or cram everyone into cities on top of each other. Neither is desirable.

    jimsf Reply:

    what do you do if you go to the townsfolk and say “hey wouldnt it be a lot nicer if we made things this “xyz” way” and they come after you with flaming torches and rabble!

    joe Reply:

    Gilroy had a envisioning project which held multiple bi-lingual meetings and workshops in the city with intermediate results and reports to solicit and educate residents about HSR.

    That process explained the out of town and in town options and let residents envision what the city could look like.

    It costs money to have these meetings but it worked.

    joe Reply:

    Here is the site:
    http://www.gilroyhighspeedtrain.org/workshops/

    People are asked to participate and actively build a vision at the workshop collaboratively. These are held in public areas and walk ins are welcome. The results are shared and publicized and a new workshop is held.

    Final report
    http://www.gilroyhighspeedtrain.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Vision_Report_Final_web.pdf\

    page 12 is reality.

    CV needs to start asking residents what kind of future they want and hold workshops about what that future would look like. I don’t know if this was done for the HSR project but the more people get involved, the more likely they are to think creatively.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Fremont is in the Bay Area, so there’s preexisting density for Fremont to want to be a railroad suburb of. In the CV north of Bakersfield, it ain’t going to happen. Even under Altamont-Dumbarton Stockton and Modesto are almost certainly too far, and even under Altamont-second-tube they’re iffy.

    joe Reply:

    I’d have more confidence in you retrospective explanations if you actually lived here for a while.

    What you wrote makes no sense to me at all. There were 5 little down towns so there isn’t a centre.

    Fremont residents (they interview them in news articles) claim they visit SF and go elsewhere and like walk-able places. They then have a sad face because Fremont is car centric.

    So residents decide it would be nice to have a walkable place in Fremont.
    People are exposed to new experiences and change their expectations and desires.

    Derek Reply:

    what do you do with cities…where people…equate cars with freedom…and who vote in way that gets those desires met?

    You use ROI to prioritize projects, reducing the flow of tax revenue out of the areas that generate it, allowing you to lower taxes in those areas (downtowns). You’ll lose votes in the distant suburbs, because a pothole downtown costs the city more in lost tax revenue and therefore would be prioritized over a pothole in the suburbs, but the downtown residents will love you and want to keep you in office.

    jimsf Reply:

    *picturing a crowd of sad faced fremontians* lol
    yes, it seems to all come down to resident attitude.
    I’ve watched sacrmento come a very long way from the early 80s till now. I hardly recognize it. But sacramentans really really hate living in the shadow of the bay area and want to be a “real place” in their own right. ( of course city politics are completely slow and dysfuntional) but the people were hungry for it and now they have a really fun downtown/midtown with lots of good stuff.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Leave New York and go 90 miles – the same distance Stockton is from San Francisco you are in Philadelphia. Or Port Jervis. Or Hyde Park NY. Or Waterbury. Or Southhampton…. Leave Washington DC and you are just north of Richmond. Or Elkton. Leave Philadelphia and you are in Elizabethtown – half way between Lancaster and Harrisburg. Go east and you are 30 miles out to sea from Atlantic City…. it’s beyond iffy. The people who decided to move to Matamoras because they could get cheap real estate and low taxes a few miles from the train to New York deeply regret it….

    joe Reply:

    We have a home range – aeven SF is a collection of smaller centres. When HSR comes to Handford people will ride it to SF and sit on the park land at the station. Visit and see walk-able places and realize they could have had a V8.

    Then they’ll make one.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Fremont residents have a BART connection to SF. Places without a preexisting center can grow one around a rapid transit connection to the central city. That’s where the preexisting density is, not in Fremont itself. Hence the comment about Fremont’s being in the Bay Area.

    jimsf Reply:

    except that they are building the downtown for the people who live in fremont, who aren’t taking bart to fremont because they are already in fremont. in fact, the point is that they don’t want to have to take bart all the way to san francisco to visit in a downtown, they want their own.

    joe Reply:

    Fremont is building the downtown with BART on one end and car centric Malls on the other end.

    I would expect some transition from inside mall to outside experience – that will probably involve a walkable core and park in existing spots but and leave the vehicle. Fremont still does not have a dense downtown residential area.

    In Gilroy (yes me again) added new shopping centers which have a popular section (A) . it is busy and well used. Walking to (B) book store and main shopping area (C) is dangerous, uncomfortable with out shade or cover from rain and ambiguous.

    Also, the roads are incompatible with standard VTA buses. smaller VTA buses are required.

    http://goo.gl/maps/SQQmX

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Serious answer: I think Hanford is doomed to look like a bigger version of how it looks now. The examples I know of transit-oriented small cities are either cities that already had the transit and just kept it and improved it (Strasbourg, Karlsruhe, most places in Switzerland), or cities that are larger than Hanford and had less developed freeway networks (Calgary, Vancouver).

    Fresno is about the same size as Calgary today and twice the size of Calgary at the time it opened light rail, but Fresno has a much bigger freeway network than Calgary. Fresno likely will also need some outside subsidies for transit construction because it’s poor and transit construction costs tend to be the same in rich and poor cities. Of course poor people are more likely to give up cars because they can’t afford them and this makes a transit revival easier in Fresno than in Calgary, but poor cities have less money to spend on building local rail.

    Bakersfield is probably too small no matter what. HSR might help in anchoring a population of LA-bound commuters, but a) it’s going to be a small population, b) this ideally requires Tejon and a downtown station and it’s hard to do both, and c) downtown Bakersfield itself is always going to be a bigger attraction than the HSR stop.

    Hanford is probably hopeless because it’s too small.

    jimsf Reply:

    so even with hsr aside… just as a city itself, of 55,000, and not even as it relates to transit, just aesthetics and lifestyle… there is no way to persuede them to make their town more attractive?

    That’s what I was afraid of.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oh, the aesthetics can be improved, the way it’s done in Clovis or in a bunch of other towns. But people are going to keep driving, do most of their shopping at Wal-Mart, and live in subdivisions without sidewalks. Actually, most of small town New England looks like that, but transit use is approximately zero outside a handful of larger cities and very low outside of Boston. (And Calgary actually has a higher transit mode share than Boston, since most of the Boston area isn’t Boston or Cambridge but rather office park sprawl.)

    The main way big city stores compete with Wal-Mart is by using the fact that they’re in a big city. You can walk 5 minutes to them, and if you’re willing to ride the bus for a few stops, still a lot closer than the nearest Ikea or Target or Costco, you have a much wider variety in brands, levels of service, and so on. You can even discount-hop: when I was living in Manhattan on a grad student stipend I’d use the fact that each supermarket had different items on discount to pay not much more than Wal-Mart prices for unionized workers and mid-to-upscale food quality.

    jimsf Reply:

    clovis, at 97,000 was able to do it successfully. people actually travel from all around to go there…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Good God streets are wide in California. We have a more elegant downtown on what I think of as wide streets, but they don’t have four driving lanes!

    joe Reply:

    Sounds like you have it all figured out until I look at Handford and Gilroy.

    Hanford is the same area as Gilroy at 16.5 sq miles
    Hanford has 55k residents, Gilroy 49k residents.
    Like Hanford, Gilroy is not bounded by another city.

    One has a vision for a down town station and infill with hotels. The other doesn’t. I don’t see how size figures into the explanation.

    One city did outreach. One city planned ahead and was proactive.

    jimsf Reply:

    I think it really comes down to the attitude of the residents in the end. I think alon is correct that some of these cities won’t change, but some will. Depends entirely on the attitude of the residents.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I have a vision of myself with a Fields medal and tenure at MIT. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …Calgary had a downtown… Calgary’s population at the 1921 census was 63,305. 63,305 people before there were lots of cars need trolley cars and trolley car suburbs to take the trolley to. All of Kings County had a population of 49k in 1960 and 64k in 1970. There weren’t enough people to have a downtown until well after suburban sprawl was the urban design. Kings County’s 2010 population was 152k. Versus Calgary’s population of 151k in 1951. When people still wanted to go downtown and supermarkets, malls and drive through banking were still years away. …and Calgarians had the vision to imagine themselves as a metro area of a million and decided that trolleys into downtown was a better vision than I-10 through downtown like Phoenix.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Serious answer: I think Hanford is doomed to look like a bigger version of how it looks now. ”

    I see no reason that Hanford should be doomed to get bigger at all. It’s not an attractive location.

    jimsf Reply:

    except that they keep building these and people keep buying them

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    when your alternatives are to buy one of those or live under a bridge one of those looks very attractive. Go down to the Hanford Building permit office and tell them you want to build 4 story condos with one parking space per unit and see how cooperative they are.

    jimsf Reply:

    right but the question is, why won’t they let you build it and if they did, would anyone want to buy it? I’m pretty sure they would still prefer the big house with a yard.

    I think its really really about the attitude of the residents in any given city. some cities, even little ones, seem to want it, others not. I don’t think it has anything to do with anything else.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They won’t let you build it because Real Americans ™ live in single family houses on at least a half acre. The people who want to live in a condo where they don’t have to mow the lawn or wash down the driveway aren’t Real Americans ™ and they don’t want that type living in their town.

  5. morris brown
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 20:34
    #5

    More on the LA Times article:

    LA Times:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0426-bullet-train-snag-20130429,0,4265519.story

    So writers here… the BNSF letter is of no concern! Now DeSaulnier’s committee going to look into the bid changing rules issue. !

    What should be very interesting is what will take place at Thursdays Board meeting. Are HSR Boardmembers going to just rubber stamp the action by CEO Jeff Morales or will they insist the rules, that only they had the power to issue and enforce, be kept in place and over-rule Morales. Are they a true board or a bunch of “empty hats”?

    Tony D Reply:

    Your “outrage” is hilarious!

  6. Drunk Engineer
    Apr 29th, 2013 at 22:59
    #6

    But it would mean infill project opponents could no longer tie a project up in court simply because they don’t like the way it looks — something high-speed rail opponents in Atherton tried recently.

    I don’t see how this bill applies to Atherton. Atherton residents were concerned over aerials — not residential projects near transit stations.

    joe Reply:

    Atherton is concerned about everything; objecting over aesthetics, inadequate our reach in South County Santa Clara and etc.

    PAMPA is impossible. Here’s an example of Menlo Park objecting to Menlo Park’s Specific Plan for developing vacant automobile dealership in downtown. The project is fully complaint with the city’s plan so the city wants to change their plan.
    http://www.almanacnews.com/news/show_story.php?id=13454

    Technically, Stanford does not have to change anything about its plan — even the original proposal appeared to meet baseline requirements for development allowed by the specific plan, meaning that the project would not trigger any negotiations for public benefits. It also would not have required approval beyond the Planning Commission’s signing off on the architectural details.
    ….
    Another tactic – removing Stanford’s parcels from the specific plan boundaries – carries its own complications. The staff report describes this as “more complex” than the other options, given the degree to which the specific plan process focused on encouraging development of the vacant lots on El Camino Real, and could create new, unanticipated community impacts.

    They can’t even govern themselves.

    Nathanael Reply:

    My God.

    If they wanted to require prior approval on a project-by-project basis for every project, they should have just made that into their local law. (There’s no consistutional right to build anything.) But they didn’t. They made a set of rules, Stanford followed the rules, and now they’re trying to obstruct… yuck.

  7. Adina
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 00:12
    #7

    hmm… the devil is in the details on the traffic provision. the issue is that jurisdictions vary widely in how vehicle-centric their policies are. if you bake in a traffic threshold in state law you might wind up with a lower standard than more progressive jurisdictions. for example, you could set an auto level of service threshold that would override the policy in (to take a real example) Redwood City to be able to ignore auto LOS in the downtown.

    StevieB Reply:

    The paragraph following the one where the Legislature intends to establish a threshold of traffic levels of service says it is not not the intent of the Legislature to affect authority, consistent with CEQA, for a local agency to impose its own, more stringent thresholds (SECTION 1.(c)(2) )

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 03:59
    #8

    Long distance train commentary:

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2013/04/long-distance-trains-dont-work.html

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I keep meaning to write more about this topic, but this debate reveals a deep philosophical gap. Transportation should not be planned and decided on the basis of cost recovery or efficiency. We want a nationwide rail network. That means subsidizing long-distance trains. If you add more service or lower the fares, you’ll sell out every long distance train.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Transportation should not be planned and decided on the basis of cost recovery or efficiency.

    Oh, so you’re a convert to building superhighways now, are you?

    We want a nationwide rail network. That means subsidizing long-distance trains. If you add more service or lower the fares, you’ll sell out every long distance train.

    If you paid attention to Amtrak’s occupancy figures or what the rail advocate organizations say, you’d know that they frequently already sell out. The proper response at this point in time is to raise the fares on the long distance trains.

    joe Reply:

    Robert wrote:

    We want a nationwide rail network. That means subsidizing long-distance trains.

    Paul retorts:

    Oh, so you’re a convert to building superhighways now, are you?

    and then concludes with:

    If you paid attention…

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Joe, your reading comprehension is absolutely abysmal.

    joe Reply:

    ROBERT: Transportation should not be planned and decided on the basis of cost recovery or efficiency. We want a nationwide rail network.

    PAUL: Oh, so you’re a convert to building superhighways now, are you?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Yes. It’s a reductio ad absurdem of his claim that “Transportation should not be planned and decided on the basis of cost recovery or efficiency.” Not a terribly subtle one either.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Paul, as Joe pointed out, YOUR reading comprehension is absolutely abysmal.

    jimsf Reply:

    The fares are managed with fare buckets based on demand which is fine. What is needed is additional capacity. Adding cars/seats to an existing train allows more revenue without much more cost. But it requires more equipment.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    The fares on long distance trains are absurdly low and, with the exception of the all coach Palmetto, are not set high enough that they could even theoretically recover their costs.

    jimsf Reply:

    sleeper fares are absurdly high, coach fares are set by demand.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Which is why if you want to get on today’s 5:00 or 6:00 Acela the fare is 249 for coa.. business class. And 112 more for parl… first class.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …and in very round numbers it’s a buck a mile to travel on Acela. Or 50 cents a mile to take the same trip on a Regional with a walk-up-and-go fare. Or just over 20 cents a mile if you book early and take one of the off peak Regionals. According to the schedule for the California Zephyr on streamlinerschedules.com it’s 2393 miles from Chicago to Sacramento. At 20 cents a mile that’s 478.60. How much should the fare be for a sleeping compartment if the rate is the same as a business class seat on Acela? Though a compartment is arguably more deluxe than a first class seat on Acela. How much should the fare be then?

    jimsf Reply:

    I don’t have any idea how fares are set, nor do I have any idea who sets them, or why they set them the way they do.

    I do have an idea that they are set to accomodate the market they service as in, a ticket from san francisco to stockton is ten bucks, and san francisco to sac is 30 bucks to go roughly the same distance. Two completely different demographics.

    Same goes for the diff between surliner fares and san joaquin fares.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    to go from New York to Philadelphia. the same distance as San Francisco to Sacramento or Stockton the fare in October is 36 dollars on the Keystones and off peak Regionals or 145 on peak Acelas with other prices for other departures and faster trips. The trip from New York to Philadelphia doesn’t include a bus ride to Newark or Camden on one end.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In short, not that many people want to take a train from Sacramento to Denver, so the prices are relatively low. Quite a lot want to take a train from Buffalo, NY to Chicago, so the prices are higher.

    Amtrak really does price according to demand.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If “not many people” want to take the train from Sacramento to Denver why is there a train at all? Reallocate the equipment to someplace where people do want to take the train and run enough of them fast enough that the train breaks even.

    jimsf Reply:

    A coach ticket from sac to chi today is 302.00 one way. how much do you think it should be?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    At least $470.

    jimsf Reply:

    ha. no one is going to pay 470. you can fly for that. the bulk of our passengers could not afford that.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    You can fly for $302 as well.

    jimsf Reply:

    the majority of passengers can not afford 470.

    What I would like to see however is the elemination of discounts. aaa, senior, disabled. Why would a disabled or senior person who makes 65k a year, get a 15 percent discount over the 22 year old walmart employee who makes 20k a year?

    Do the airlines have senior, disabled, student, and aaa fares?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    If they cannot afford $470, why are they taking Amtrak, which is more expensive than air travel for coach travelers as is?

    And yes, airlines have discounted fares, at least for seniors.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Get rid of the NARP discount. It will help make NARP a true consumer organization, not an Amtrak cheering section.

    jimsf Reply:

    amtrak coach is rarely more expensive than air travel.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Some of the discounts are mandated by law, Jim. I believe the senior discount is. The disabled discount may be too.

    And yes, airlines have discounts for much the same things.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So the money they are losing they will make up by selling more seats?

    Derek Reply:

    Transportation should not be planned and decided on the basis of cost recovery or efficiency.

    Why not? Because we don’t? That’s a good example of the “appeal to tradition” logical fallacy.

    We want a nationwide rail network. That means subsidizing long-distance trains.

    Or desubsidizing the alternatives to make long-distance trains more attractive and cost-effective.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Ain’t gonna happen, not for the long-distance trains. Those trains compete with airplanes rather than cars, and the big air markets connecting the larger cities are profitable. The subsidized markets to the small cities aren’t, but there are towns in North Dakota with Essential Air Service that gets way less people than Amtrak, so there isn’t the ridership to poach, either.

    Before cars and planes, the service levels to those towns were not much better than today. The express trains ran nonstop, and the longish-distance local trains only came once or twice per day. Those towns just didn’t have decent transportation service by any mode, and still don’t. If you’re looking for a subsidy to blame, blame the US for settling the West and giving railroads subsidies and rail grants to do the same.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    We like to eat, the food has to come from somewhere. Growing wheat in North Dakota makes a lot more sense than growing wheat in Central Park. Growing wheat in western North Dakota may not make sense… When you are in the mood for an hour or so of reading Google “Buffalo Commons” .. turn it into something like the Adirondack Park….
    … way way back when when they had a local or two toddling through there were more people in those towns. Whole towns have depopulated. The population of North Dakota has been drifting downward since it’s 1930 peak. South Dakota is bigger today but not by much. Same thing has been happening in the remote parts of other Great Plains states. The only thing going on out there is farming and farming is getting more and more efficient.. which is why they abandon roads now and then. There’s no longer anyone around to use them. They don’t dig them up, they just hang a sign that says “this road is not maintained” and wander off.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I don’t know what you mean when you say “long-distance trains”. I suggest you stop using the term. If you mean “Mountain West trains”, say that.

    When you say “long-distance trains”, I hear “New York to Florida”, “New York to Chicago”, “Chicago to New Orleans”.

    Nathanael Reply:

    …and there’s plenty of ridership to poach from airlines on THOSE routes. And it IS getting poached.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    New York to Florida is the same. The air routes that Amtrak is competing with there aren’t EAS; they’re core service for the airlines that operate them.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Landing at airports that can’t allocate slots to the highest bidder….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If they could, the first flights on the chopping block would be the shuttles to Boston and Washington, not the flights to South Florida.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It would make the flights from Islip, Westchester even ABE to South Florida appear cheaper. Southwest shifts a plane load from JFK to Florida to Islip to Florida that’s one less plane at JFK.
    The shuttle flights are slowly withering away all by themselves. Making them more expensive has it’s charms. It means Amtrak can charge more. It wouldn’t work out this neatly but if Amtrak can make 200 million a year on NEC services instead of 100 million a year on NEC services they have twice as much money to improve the NEC with…

    Eric Reply:

    Or twice as much money to subsidize trains in North Dakota with…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The North Dakotans want to sever the NEC from the national system so that “their” tax money – even though “their” tax money never leaves the state – doesn’t go to those icky Unreal Americans along the NEC. I say let ’em…. along with tolls on I-94 and a lot of other things like rural telephone subsidies at the same time.

    jim Reply:

    Yes, “long distance trains” isn’t an analytical category: it’s a financial one. There’s very little difference between the Palmetto and the Carolinian: both leave New York before the morning rush, both arrive at their final destination mid-evening — television’s prime time — and both charge similar fares. But New York to Savannah GA as the train runs is on the order of 800 miles and New York to Charlotte NC as the train runs is on the order of 700 miles. So one is a long distance train and the other a State-supported corridor train. That’s fine for deciding who pays. It’s not fine for determining policy. The Palmetto and the Auto Train actually run along the same stretch of track for several hundred miles, but apart from that have almost nothing in common. Yet they’re both long distance trains. It’s really hard to see any comparison between the Cardinal and the Sunset, except they both run three days a week.

    Congress made a category to avoid paying for some trains. We shouldn’t reify that category into an analytic tool.

    joe Reply:

    Another analogy is with aircraft. FAA don’t treat flights differently due to distance flown.

  9. JB in PA
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 08:46
    #9

    Oft topic:

    Seat-of-the-pants discussion of High Speed Rail vertical curves.

    http://what-if.xkcd.com/

    (For future reference: Blog article posted week of April 30. Check out the other interesting posts on this blog. Note: Scroll over graphics to find ‘Easter egg’ comments. The one a few weeks ago about a hair dryer has an interesting side comment about a man-hole cover during a nuclear test.)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And now I’m trying to compute what initial acceleration rate (the limiting factor up a very steep grade) a train would need to be able to climb to the vertical point on the curve.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Maybe I’m misreading that comment, but I would think a loop or something similar would be a “momentum” grade, not something you’re going to run on power alone.

    Heck, that’s what a roller coaster does.

  10. Derek
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 11:37
    #10

    High-Speed Rail Making Offers On Property
    By Erik Rosales, KMPH

    Property owners along the high-speed rail route through Fresno are now getting offers for their pieces of land.

  11. Keith Saggers
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 13:04
    #11
  12. Keith Saggers
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 13:29
    #12
  13. Keith Saggers
    Apr 30th, 2013 at 13:55
    #13

    http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/mar/18/high-speed-rail-project-beset-political-mine-field/

    Tony D Reply:

    Gee, Paul Ryan against a federal loan for high speed rail. I’m shocked (sarcasm).

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    If the loan is financed by the railroad industry how is it “a risk to taxpayers”?

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