U.S. Transportation department executive approved grant days before taking job with rail contractor

By Ralph Vartabedian : latimes – excerpt

A top Obama administration executive at the U.S. Department of Transportation approved a $647-million grant for a California rail project in mid-January and less than two weeks later went to work for a Los Angeles-based contractor involved in the project, The Times has learned.

The grant provides a significant part of the money required to install a $2-billion electrical power system on the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter rail system, allowing the rail to retire its diesel locomotives.

The power equipment will eventually be used by the state’s bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, making it a critical part of the $64-billion program. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has pledged about $713 million to help install the system, according to state records.

The grant was handled by Carolyn Flowers, the acting chief of the Federal Transit Administration.  Flowers announced the grant approval in a letter, dated Jan. 18,  to congressional leaders. The Times obtained a copy of the letter…

Thirteen days later, Flowers went to work for Aecom, a Los Angeles-based engineering firm. The company news release announcing her hiring says she will head its North American transit practice. Aecom provides program management services to Caltrain for the electrification project, according to Caltrain documents. It was formerly a regional consultant to the high-speed rail project as well.

On Friday, the federal transit agency said it had “deferred” a decision on the grant and said it would look at the matter in the next federal budget cycle. The decision may be an early sign of the Trump administration’s view of the bullet train project. The line is already under construction and will need significant federal funding moving forward.

The delay follows a letter from every Republican member of the California House delegation to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking that the grant be put off until an audit of the high-speed rail project is completed.
This is exactly what America hates about Washington, D.C… (more)

Don’t they call this the revolving door?

RELATED:
Carolyn Flowers-letter to congress

Trump administration deals a big setback to Caltrain

By Matier & Ross : sfgate – excerpt

In the first big hit to the Bay Area from the Trump administration, newly minted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has put the brakes on $647 million for Caltrain to go electric — and in the process pretty much killed hopes for high-speed rail coming to San Francisco anytime soon.

“It puts the (electrification) project in serious jeopardy,” Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said Friday.

Caltrain carries about 60,000 riders a day between the South Bay and San Francisco, but its diesel-driven trains are both costly to operate and slow. Officials see electrification as a way both to increase ridership and save money on operating costs.

Going electric would also allow the Peninsula line to be the final link in the high-speed rail system that Gov. Jerry Brown wants to stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Obama administration embraced the idea, but California Republicans have long portrayed it as a boondoggle and sought to kill it.

In this July 1, 2013, file photo, commuters board a Caltrain train at the Caltrain and BART station in Millbrae. The Federal Transit Administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve a $647 million …(more)

Millennium Tower residents and Mission Bay Alliance in court

Millennium Tower Resident Files Conspiracy Claim Against City

nbcbayarea – excerpt – (includes video)

Condo owner, a lawyer, says building inspectors conspired with Transbay terminal and developer in cover-up

In extraordinary legal claims filed Tuesday, Millennium Tower owners accuse officials with the San Francisco building inspection department and the next-door Transbay Transit Terminal of conspiring with the high-rise’s developer to hide evidence that the building was sinking. Jaxon Van Derbeken reports. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016)..(more)

Beware of retired patent attorney, claims Both City and Transbay knew about the sinking and tilting and hid it from the public and home owners, admits it will be hard to prove but looks forward to the effort.. (more)

and

Mission Bay Alliance appeals Ruling

Members of the Mission Bay Alliance will be appealing a ruling that was levied earlier this year quashing their desperate legal fight to put a hold on the Golden State Warriors’ new arena. Pete Suratos reports..(more)

Proponents claims include: the proposed arena “violated a zoning established by a current redevelopment plan.. the city’s transportation plan can’t accommodate the new arena.. ” They also cite possible health issues from possible contaminants being emitted from this proposed arena … (more)

SF voters approve better transit, reject tax to pay for it

By Jerold Chinn : sfbay – excerpt

San Francisco voters voted overwhelmingly to approve $150 million for improved transit and homeless services Tuesday night — while rejecting by a similar margin a sales tax increase that would provide the funds.

Election night results in San Francisco show Proposition K, a three-quarter sales tax increase that would have taken effect in April of next year, failing with 67 percent of voters against the increase.

The 0.75 percent sales tax increase — to 9.25 percent — would have provided funds for Proposition J that would create the Homeless Housing and Services Fund and the Transportation Improvement Fund… (more)

“San Francisco’s current sales tax is at 8.75 percent, but will decrease to 8.5 percent after Dec. 31, 2016.”

Voters need to look forward to lower taxes in this volatile, unpredictable economy with high rents and evictions looming. They are watching SFMTA roll out one ridiculous future project after another non-stop while they are being squeezed out of the city.

In spite of all the back-slapping at City Hall the public does not appreciate the constant “improvements” being slapped down on the streets at our expenses, and no amount of PR and advertising dollars will convince us to spend another dime on systems we will never live to see.

Supe. Peskin predicts death of the sales tax

By Joshua Sabatini : sfexaminer – excerpt

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the last one before next week’s election, Supervisor Aaron Peskin predicted the defeat of a sales tax assumed in Mayor Ed Lee’s city budget, offering some last-minute election drama.

Peskin was the only supervisor who voted against the budget earlier this year, citing objections to balancing the budget by assuming revenues The City had yet to receive. He also voted against placing the sales tax, Proposition K, on the ballot in the first place.

In 2017, San Francisco’s sales tax would decrease from the current rate of 8.75 percent to 8.5 percent, but if Prop. K passes it would increase by .75 percent, to a total of 9.25 percent.

With 25 local measures, supporters of multiple measures have talked about the challenge of reaching voters and getting them to vote down ballot.

“Many of those items are conflicting with one another,” Peskin said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “I want to say as the only member of this body who voted against the budget on the theory that it was being predicated on a tax that would have to pass next week, which is polling terribly, we’ve got to get this right the next time we go to the ballot.”…

Propositions D, H, L and M would, respectively, strip the mayor’s board appointment power, create the position of a public advocate, allow the board to appoint some members of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Commission instead of just the mayor, and create a housing commission, which would oversee the Mayor’s Office of Housing(more)

San Francisco Public Press writes:

Proposition D – “Proposition D Drains Mayor’s Power in Filling Supervisor Seats, Other Major Vacancies” – By Zachary Clark

Proposition H – Creating a ‘Public Advocate’ Watchdog

Proposition L – Giving Supervisors More Say Over Transit

Proposition MThis Charter amendment would make two major city agencies accountable to a new, third body, called the Housing and Development Commission.

Honesty in Government

Here’s how the editors of Riverside’s newspaper, The Press Enterprise came down on Riverside Measure Z:

Ultimately, though, our board decided to oppose Measure Z.

If it had been a special tax – dedicating its proceeds to particular needs such as infrastructure upkeep and improvement, and requiring a two-thirds vote for passage – we could have lined up behind Measure Z. But as it is, it transfers too much money for too long – 20 years – from taxpayers’ pockets to a City Hall that has yet to demonstrate careful stewardship of its revenue for a sustained period of time.

That is how the SF Chronicle and SF Examiner should have responded to S.F. Prop K.

Like Measure Z, SF Prop K will be adopted with a 50% vote because the money raised goes to the General Fund.  Which means that a yes vote in either city would be an expression of trust in the wisdom and prudence of that city’s City Hall.  Knowing that they didn’t enjoy that level of confidence, San Francisco’s politicians did Riverside one better.  They threw in a sweetener.  Prop J….Prop K’s companion measure….promises nice-sounding things but has no weight of law.  Once they have the money San Francisco’s politicians can do what they want with it.  Riverside’s politicians played it straight.  San Francisco’s politicians did not.

– Gerald Cauthern, SaveMuni

Final Ruling On SCIG Railyard Requires New Environmental Impact Report Before Project Continues

By Jason Ruiz :ibpost – excerpt

Citing flaws in how the environmental impact report was conducted, a Contra Costa Superior Court Judge handed down a final ruling on the proposed BNSF Railway’s Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, stating that the Port and City of Los Angeles must complete “a more robust and accurate analysis” of possible environmental impacts before proceeding.

The announcement comes after over three years of contentious litigation and protests from communities that stood to be impacted by the rail-yard, especially those in West Long Beach. A number of groups, including the City of Long Beach, Long Beach Unified School District and the South Coast Air Quality Management District were among the original petitioners that filed suit after LA and its port adopted the EIR in 2013.

Judge Barry P. Goode, who in March handed down a similar ruling regarding the deficiencies in the methods used by Los Angeles, again rejected the findings of the EIR. The final ruling mandates that the project approval be vacated and any project activities suspended until it’s brought into compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), leaving the Port and BNSF with several options, including carrying out a new EIR or potentially scrapping the project altogether. They have 60 days to appeal the decision… (more)

New $1.5 billion rail shortfall imperils S.F. Transbay to Caltrain link

By Chris Rauber : bizjournals – excerpt

Already underfunded plans to bring high-speed rail service to San Francisco face a new $1.5 billion shortfall, which San Francisco officials say is due to cost cutting by the cash-strapped California High-Speed Rail Authority.

That funding was crucial not only to link the state’s high-speed rail project with San Francisco, but to fund the 1.3-mile rail connection between the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets and the under-construction Transbay Transit Center. The transit center is already struggling with cost overruns and a transition in leadership.

The Transbay Transit Center, a 1 million-square-foot South of Market regional transportation hub is slated for completion by late 2017, but critics have said it will be a billion-dollar bus terminal if the extension to Caltrain and the bullet train doesn’t get built. The $1.5 billion shortfall could further imperil the extension.

The huge drop in the amount of money the city is expecting to receive from the California rail agency is spelled out in an April 13 letter to the high-speed rail authority from the heads of several San Francisco agencies.

The letter says the city’s Transbay Transit Center’s funding from the High-Speed Rail Authority “will be reduced by $1.5 billion to $550 million,” citing the authority’s recently revised draft 2016 business plan.

The San Francisco officials called the rail agency funding “an integral part” of financing the planned Caltrain/high-speed rail extension to the new transit hub.

The missive, obtained by the Business Times, asks the rail authority to reinstate the funding and make San Francisco, instead of San Jose, the terminus of its initial bullet-train tracks.

A revised plan, announced at a California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting last week, indicated that the first $21 billion operating segment of the planned system would link San Jose to the Central Valley by 2025, rather than connecting Southern California to the state’s midsection.

The lower funding amount “caused me deep concern,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. “The high-speed rail authority needs to be a full and complete partner” with San Francisco. “Hopefully, this will be a bump in the road, and they will reverse course.”… (more)

Avalos’ argument is the same one used by then Assemblymember Jerry Hill a few years back.

from Bob Planthold

Hill introduced a bill to REDUCE the fines for those making an illegal right turn on red , without stopping. Hill said his constituents asked him for help – because they couldn’t afford the high levels of fines for the tickets they were getting.  The Calif. Police Chiefs’ Association, California Walks, and some other safety advocates joined together to defeat that anti-safety bill. Ever since then, Hill has not done anything adverse to traffic / roadway safety. Let’s hope that Avalos and the other 5 Supes. eventually learn something from Jerry Hill’s experience.

“Board approves rolling bike stops; Lee likely to veto…”

Supervisor Avalos says the $200 fine for bike riders who roll through stop signs is “the difference between making their monthly rent or not.” It’s that kind of logic that leaves me shaking my head.

Here’s a suggestion: Don’t run through the damn stop sign and you can make your rent.

And besides, being able to make your rent, you just might not injure someone, or yourself, or a cause an accident.

Joe Mac… (more)

Proposed Condos At Pagoda Theater Site Could Stymie Central Subway Extension Plan

BY CALEB PERSHAN : sfist – excerpt

With the goal of expanding the Central Subway project from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf, an oft-cited item on the SFMTA’s future project “wish list,” Supervisor Julie Christensen is pushing the City of San Francisco to purchase land at the intersection of Columbus and Powell in her district. The former home of the now-razed Pagoda Theater, the site was used as an exit point for the Subway project’s tunnel boring machines, but as Hoodline first reported, plans are in motion to break ground on the site for luxury condos as soon as November. Now things are heating up, the Examiner reports, with Christensen redoubling her efforts to claim the property for the City, a move she cites as important to the subway’s expansion. She’s now asked city government’s Real Estate Division to re-assess the property.

“We are lighting bonfires under their fannies,” Christensen said. “I’ve finally gotten a lot of people to share my sense of urgency.” Christensen is joined by vocal “let’s always be building a Subway” advocate Supervisor Scott Wiener, who writes to Facebook “I’m proud to join my colleague Supervisor Julie Christensen to co-sponsor her initiation of the process to purchase a critical site in North Beach to preserve it for a future North Beach subway station for the extension of the Central Subway…We can’t afford to lose this site to condo development.”… (more)

RELATED:
Supervisor takes steps to purchase key site for Central Subway expansion