Monday, November 24, 2014

Black Friday Transportation Tip: Stay with the family on Thanksgiving

Rebel the new modern culture of unnecessary shopping on Thanksgiving to keep the family unit strong.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


If you follow and read this blog regularly, you know that one of the reasons why several areas of the Inland Empire are plagued in crime and social issues is due to the collapse of the traditional family structure. The culture has been attacking the family unit from all sides and is not looking for the best of us. Now, this modern trend of materialism is attacking a huge family day on the calendar; that is Thanksgiving Day.

I won't go into the details regarding its history but Thanksgiving has long been an important holiday for the family where its members travel long distances to see each other, share their stories, do fun activities together, and share a delicious meal. Such gatherings allow families to become stronger units. Strengthening the family unit is absolutely necessary to bring out the best of people and combat the social problems in Southern California.

Two Deals for Black Friday 2014...or Thanksgiving.

Enter in Black Friday, historically the busiest shopping day of the year where retailers compete for floods of shoppers by offering the sharpest deals on products. After the Thanksgiving feast, deal-seekers would go to bed, wake up very early on Friday morning, line up in front of a major retailer and shop. Wal-Mart for example, is offering a 65 inch television for $648 as a door-buster deal this year as well as an Xbox One Console with the newest Halo game and a $30 gift card for $329. But that deal is not taking place early morning Friday. It is not happening at midnight. The deal starts at 6:00PM Thanksgiving night! Availability not guaranteed after 7:00PM.

Rebel against Black Thursday...Stay with the family on Thanksgiving.

The culture of materialism is in full swing and is attacking this important night which forces many in the retail sector to work in the name of materialism.  In fact, the disgrace has gotten so bad that some big name major retailers including Costco, Nordstrom, and Barnes and Noble have rightly elected to turn away from this new form of the modern culture's materialistic ways. Some retailers who operate in shopping malls that require them to be open on Thanksgiving are playing their righteous cards by taking the heavy penalties and fines by remaining closed on Thanksgiving and not allowing unjustified policies into forcing them to operate. One mid-size retail business which operates electronics and department stores on the east coast which also has an online store posted this "Save Thanksgiving" memo on its website:

Our 2,849 employees wish you a very healthy, Happy Thanksgiving... A Day for the Celebration of Families, Friends, and Loved Ones.

It is our opinion that retailers who choose to open on Thanksgiving show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values in the United States of America. 

KEEP FAMILY FIRST

Honor Thanksgiving Day...A True American Holiday!

We appreciate those who provide us essential services on Thanksgiving Day. A special thanks to the service men and women who protect our freedom each and every day.

-P.C. Richard & Son
 
As the retailer pointed out and to be fair, there has to be some sectors that need to operate 365 days per year like hospitals, emergency services, defense, drug stores, and other essential entities; this includes some places in the retail sector, but offering 65 inch televisions for $648 and bonus add-on's to a video game console to lure people into a store on Thanksgiving night is not a legit reason to force massive amounts of retail employees to work or cut family time short for the holiday. Plus the environment and traffic conditions at these retailers is absolutely chaotic.

Sadly, many good people have bought into this madness as there are some who are even willing to camp for days at a time through the holiday to cash in on a deal. Look no further than Best Buy.

In fact, according to a National Retail Federation survey, of those consumers who have or will go shopping during the Thanksgiving holiday times, 31.8 percent said they planned to go shopping on Thursday.

It's beyond belief of what our materialistic culture has done to this family holiday.

Fortunately, the retail marketplace has good competition and it will take the knowledge and patience of efficient buying and searching to get around this madness and still get a great deal on products.

If we can break this damaging cultural trend by spending Thanksgiving with the family and not shopping, more of our retail workers can also be at home.

Alternative Deals that allow you to stay with the Family

Sales and tremendous deals can be found all the time both in store and on the web all throughout the marketplace. Think about it. Are the trade-off's really worth it on Thanksgiving night? If you really need to have that big screen television for under $700 or an Xbox One for under $360, know that there are similar deals out in the marketplace that don't require you to go to a crowded and traffic-choked Wal-Mart in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.

At the time of this post, TigerDirect had a listing on eBay for a new 60 inch Seiki HDTV for $600 with free shipping. If I had to replace the big screen TV in the family room, I'd sacrifice the 5 inches of screen space and the "Smart" features, take 5 minutes to order the TV online, and stay with the family this Thanksgiving. As for the Xbox One, I'd sacrifice an extra $20, the gift card and the new Halo video game in exchange to attend my family's Thanksgiving event. Toys R Us online has one for $350 plus $6 shipping at the time of this post. Again, about 5 minutes to order one plus the 10-15 minutes to locate the deal on the net.

Plus, with the web, those alternative deals mean spending Black Friday and the rest of the four day weekend with the family too and away from the crowded stores.

Transportation Tip: Stay with the family on Thanksgiving for the entire day and evening and consider doing that for the entire four-day weekend. Enjoy the social time, play with the children, and enjoy the dinner feast. If you are forced to work on Thanksgiving day, schedule in a full uninterrupted 24 hour period with the rest of the family on another day.

Don't trade off your whole Thanksgiving night for 5 inches, $20, a free video game, or a gift card. Those precious family moments are priceless and not worth any material trade-off. Enjoy the holiday so you can keep your relationships and communities strong. We believe stronger families builds up stronger communities and keeps children out of the criminal culture. Visit the Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page and pledge not to shop for unnecessary gifts on Thanksgiving. Shopping on Thanksgiving night means other people are forced to work.

Allow retail workers the opportunity to celebrate this family holiday too.

Your Views on Metrolink TVMFail and Inland Empire SmartGrowth

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


Thanks to all of our readers for commenting over the current matters regarding Metrolink and Inland Empire smart growth. Here's a rundown of your views:

How about getting some of those companies to start opening offices out in the IE so they don't have to commute. Mark Friis/Facebook

The real issue is that many people are clueless when it comes to personal finance and managing their money. For better or worse, nothing is guaranteed and trade-offs must be made. Many people are blissfully unaware as to what they're trading, so that's where they first need to get a grip on things. Nevram Norman/Facebook

What comes first: the jobs or the people? Seeing that a lot of people already commute out of the area to jobs, it is time to bring more jobs here to the ‪#‎IE‬. iNLand fIEts/Facebook

Amazon..Staters..Toys r Us...shall be the guiding light....use up every available inch at Norton. Robert Harp/Facebook

So how do we get (expanded jobs) into SBD? Nevram Norman/Facebook

Two things: One, San Bernardino needs to incentivize business growth targeted toward existing residents with business-friendly policies and specific master plans throughout the city. Second, the city needs to continue its efforts to expel gang crime and human trafficking; such crime that clearly de-incentivizes investments. That can be done by expanding law enforcement in a fiscally conservative way by growing its Reserve ranks, Explorers, Community Action Patrol, Station Volunteers, and Neighborhood Watch programs to assist the current full time officers. In addition, the city should ensure the non-profit sector aimed at improving the social conditions of the city can operate seamlessly. I've noticed the city has begun to take action on this serious issue.

Would your OC housing plan cause existing residents to be upside-down on their mortgages? Anonymous

Yes, that could very well be an unintended consequence for owners of condos, town homes and smaller tracts with a loan, but that is no excuse to keep supplies unfairly low and prices artificially high. Government officials will have to address this issue as the comprehensive master plans to boost OC housing supplies are formed. Professionals and economists in this field should be invited to form and debate a solution for existing homeowners who have to pay the high mortgage bill each month so they are not unfairly driven out as supplies go up and home prices come down. A number of fair government rebate and loan modification programs can be discussed for these residents who may have bought at the inflated rate with no intention of capitalizing or investing on the purchase and may face negative equity with the price drops. They should be able to take advantage of loan modification programs which would lower mortgage and property tax rates as an incentive to not walk away from their home. Tax and fee rebate programs can also incentivize banks to assist these homeowners by writing off the loses.

Also, I don't anticipate nor expect homes on large properties such as dwellings in Coto de Caza or Nellie Gail Ranch to drop significantly as much of OC is already developed.

We would love for #TVMfail hashtag to become moot sometime soon. Metrolink Diary/Twitter

Memo to the good citizens who operate and contribute to the Metrolink Diary Twitter Page: We're all in it together to fix our broken Metrolink system. I thank you for exposing #TVMfail and the late trains. Now we need to present some fiscally conservative solutions to solve this problem. More on that soon.

Regarding our position of off-peak DMU train sets not saving Metrolink money:

Very interesting! You're right, I would think that a DMU would cost less to operate that a regular train, although with the crew costs being the same and the problems you mentioned with storage I never considered that it washes out. I have ridden the things here in Germany and it's not exactly pleasant so I wouldn't push for it The diesel engines are quite a loud drone through the entire trip, and you miss the best part of the train trip—here at least—beer on tap in the dining car! Alexis Kasperavičius/The Transit Coalition Discussion Board

The Sprinter DMU sets are actually not as noisy as the European train sets. If you're down in San Diego County one day, give it a try. This DMU set is not a real noise maker.


Why Sprinter-type DMU's won't be cheaper for Metrolink

High peak-hour train loads for the Metrolink San Bernardino Line dictates that smaller train sets and DMU's are not a cost-efficient solution for the route.

By: Bart Reed, Executive Director
bart.reed@thetransitcoalition.us


The North County Transit District's Sprinter light rail line and LA Metro Blue Line are both 22 miles long. The Sprinter has a fraction of the ridership of the Blue Line (87,000 vs. 8,300). The decision was for NCTD to use economical equipment for a small ridership route. The DMU equipment was probably the best decision in this case.

Metrolink is a different situation. The San Bernardino route is nearly 57 miles long. Peak hour trains dictate equipment usage, as ridership is north of 700 per trip. There would be zero cost savings in buying and providing off-peak hour train sets, such as a DMU train set. Yes, industry professionals have looked into this idea. New Metrolink Board Members bring this type of idea up all the time. It just ends up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars additional on the crew and operations side, so the idea is addressed and retired.

For example, there is an issue of storage at the terminals. You just can't have a DMU sitting there and park a six car train set. One of these two train sets would have to be moved to a storage yard and the other train set would have to be prepared and tested. The elapsed time to do such as move could take up to an hour. Metrolink off peak trains sometimes have 15 minute turns, so the idea falls apart. This is the same reason that train sets are not shortened in the off peak hours, as this takes very expensive crew time.

In addition, the cutting of San Bernardino service is purely political and was directed to stick it to LA Metro, as LA Metro pays a proportion of the costs to operate the line. San Bernardino could have completely increased revenue, if they created a series of through trains with the Antelope Valley line and folks could get conveniently from the SF Valley to the San Gabriel Valley. The revenue on the Amtrak service from Santa Barbara to San Diego is far higher than trains that terminate at Union Station.

Factually, DMU train sets are not cheaper to purchase. Crew and maintenance costs are exactly the same to operate. Railroad economics are quite different than what would appear to some of the followers of this board.

I hope this clarifies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting more jobs into the Inland Empire is better Smart Growth

A strong regional job market with sufficient housing supply can help keep commute times short and our transit system productive.

ALMECENES CAYCO

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


If you lived in the Inland Empire long enough, you know a pattern has been going on since the late 1990's. It is the fact that many highly skilled Inland Empire workers are still forced to commute 1-2 hours each way to an out-of-town job site simply because such high paying jobs remain very limited in our Inland cities.

Living in the South Los Angeles region has been out of the question for many hard working families since the 1950's. Bad social conditions and violent crime in LA drove its workers out of town and east into the Inland Empire and south into the Orange County areas.

More recently as we went into 2000, jobs shot up in Orange County and housing then became expensive since housing supplies failed to meet the high demands when its workers came into the county.

In contrast, properties and rentals here at home remained affordable which led to more housing growth demands in this region. Thus, many Inland residents make the long trek in and the journey back home each and every day of the workweek. This has been the pattern for nearly two decades and our awful long distance traffic conditions is proof. Also, many Inland regions are home to the service-oriented workforce, many of whom are still looking for work, further dampening the number of Inland jobs per worker.

I've already talked about getting better housing supplies on the other side of the 91 to increase OC competition and lower prices. I've already covered the need to clean up urban blight and gang crime in South LA and other troubled areas and existing neighborhoods here at home. Now, the question remains: How can we get the better jobs into the Inland Empire while keeping homes affordable to wipe out our long history of required long distance commuting?

Growing jobs here at home is smart and sustainable economic growth. It has nothing to do with Agenda 21. It has everything to do with bringing about the best in the Inland Empire region by eliminating the required 1-2 hour commute that many Inland citizens have to face in order to have a high paying job and a desirable quality home for the family.

New office
Imagine having a tech firm like this at a business district near you.
Photo: © Flickr/Phil Whitehouse CC-BY-SA

Getting more High Salary Jobs into town

The region has seen a growth in logistics, goods fulfillment, and medical. On the local front, the City of Murrieta has seen small business growth. But we still have a ways to go. Now is not the time time to celebrate a full recovery.

Because a significant portion of the Inland population are skilled workers, the big job makers need to be incentivized to come into Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and offer opportunities for those who still have to drive long ways for good jobs. We're talking high paying jobs such as information technology, research and development, engineering, mass media, and other similar jobs. That would greatly help balance the job-housing ratio here at home and put Orange County and North San Diego Counties into positions where they have to improve their housing supplies to retain its workforce. Plus as local job opportunities increase, so do working salaries. That's because businesses are put into a position where they have to pay more to attain or retain the best workers.

As such key jobs increase, so do their support positions as well. That in turn, allows people currently working at entry level jobs to move up or move on as they acquire new skills, thus keeping the employment door open for high school youth. Again, that allows for better salaries and more productive use of transit infrastructure.

Photo: City of Temecula
Think about it: If a software engineer is making $80,000 per year, lives in Temecula but works in Irvine, finds that another software firm is about to move into Murrieta and has a job offer for the same salary, then the Irvine firm would be put into a position to offer a raise, pay for transportation and permit telecommuting to retain the worker. But such an offering cannot happen under the current system where such high paying jobs are barely existent here in the Inland Empire.

In fact, the retail sector in our region still generally remains at a point where it is difficult to even get a job in a fast food restaurant in some local areas, even though we house some of the busiest and highest volume retail outlets.

Why are we not seeing more of these "Now Hiring" signs in the Inland Empire retail sector?
Photo: © Flickr/PaulSwansen CC-BY-ND
Getting the "Now Hiring" signs back on Retail Sector Windows

Because jobs are so limited in the Inland Empire, many have to turn to the lower-paying entry positions in retail. That obstructs many high school youth from attaining their first jobs.

To be fair, I've pointed out in this blog that more adolescents are taking the entry level jobs than a few years ago, but because so many applicants are applying for the limited number of jobs, very few establishments currently have "Help Wanted" signs posted on their windows. Employers can then keep salaries down. Many entry-level retail employers are just accepting applications and resumes, screening a pool of several qualified candidates, selecting a few for an interview, and offering one of those the job.

Under a more robust system, entry-level places would be turning over employees more quickly and thus be perpetually looking for new recruits because the workers actually have better job opportunities in the marketplace as they acquire workplace experience. I remember back in the late 90's and early 2000's when the economy was healthy and the entry level jobs were plentiful. Referral bonuses had to be given, and positions were offered to just about every qualified applicant. "Now Hiring" signs would be up for almost years at a time at many retail outlets, especially the fast food restaurants. Remember when McDonald's had the "Good jobs for good people" promotion with table tents that had paper job applications inside? We need to see this happen again in the Inland Empire.

Inland officials need to continue to incentivize business growth in the Inland Empire targeted to existing residents. Of course, there needs to be proper oversight so that the growth does not go unchecked. The World Logistics Center is a major plan that The Transit Coalition is taking a critical look due to concerns over traffic congestion and pollution. We want logistics and goods movements to prosper because it is a good stepping stone between the entry-level and professional jobs. But there needs to be efficient oversight to protect the environment. At the same point, the red tape needs to be streamlined and made more efficient so that businesses are incentivized to invest their money here at home. I'm not pandering here. I just want better efficiency and fair business-friendly policies for a better Inland job market.

Suburban tract houseKeeping Housing Affordable in the Inland Empire

One last point I need to address is keeping Inland housing affordable with the new jobs. Both the county and city governments need to monitor housing demands as more job opportunities are generated.

Let's suppose a jet manufacturing firm decides to bring 3,000 new jobs into Perris. A specific plan within the city needs to be in place to have improved housing supplies at the ready for the increased demands as aviation workers stream into town.

New tracts should follow the open-space or cluster design model where a significant amount of land remains open which would preserve wildlife corridors in high demand housing areas.
Temecula's Paseo del Sol master plan would be an example.
Map: © OpenStreetMap Contributors
Likewise, as medical jobs continue to go up in Murrieta and Temecula, so should housing supplies so that living in Southwest Riverside County can continue to be affordable. The City of Temecula has a number of housing master plans on its books including Roripaugh Ranch, Temecula Village, west Old Town, and the Jefferson Avenue redevelopment project. As more jobs come in, so should housing for the workers.

Developers should be incentivized to renovate or upgrade existing subdivisions while new tracts should follow an open-space or cluster design model where a significant portion of the land remains open. Some of the newer tracts in Temecula and Murrieta follow this design model. That will prevent the growth from turning into unchecked urban sprawl or obstructing wildlife corridors or ecosystems.

We don't want Southwest housing prices to become like Orange County where entry and support workers are priced out due to short supplies. Temecula is doing the right thing but such housing developers also need to pay for and expedite capital infrastructure and transit improvements to offset local traffic congestion. That I-15 freeway is becoming really tough these days through the Southwest and south Corona areas.

Dana Point, California (3436698285)
Imagine looking over Lake Elsinore in one of these town homes.
Inland officials seriously need to consider these propositions and must hold the state accountable for better statewide policies. That includes fair changes to CEQA law so that special interests cannot obstruct in court environmentally-friendly projects in the name of the environment. For instance, Tesla decided to place a battery manufacturing factory in Nevada, not in the job-starved Inland Empire. Why?

A workable and fact-based path to smart growth and reduced commute times on the freeways is getting the private sector to build a strong job market and economy that can provide better opportunities to the people of the Inland Empire. Businesses need to be better incentivized to grow the Inland job market.

The time is now to make it happen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Let's Debate: Solving the Expensive Housing Problem in Job-Rich Orange County

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


One of the main reasons why the infamous 91 freeway between the Inland Empire and Orange County is so saturated in cars and HOV's is the simple fact that Orange County has job-rich areas where local quality housing is generally unaffordable for its workers. That includes small rental units, condos, and town homes. Many workers are then forced to live in the Inland Empire where such desirable homes are more affordable, but far from the job. Some workers commute clear out from regions like Lake Elsinore and even Temecula each day to job-rich hubs on the other side of the 91. Even with the carpool, vanpool, 91 Express Lanes, peak-hour Metrolink services and commuter bus options available through the corridor, total commute times can last in excess of over 1-2 hours door-to-door.

How can we cut those times down to under 30-45 minutes each way or less? First, let's look at the  problem.

How Expensive is Orange County Housing?

According to the 2014 Community Indicators report released by the County of Orange, "Affordable" housing is defined as spending 30% or less of one's income toward rent.

According to the report, the 2014 median rent in OC was:
  • One Bedroom, $1,312 monthly
  • Two Bedrooms, $1,644 monthly
  • Three Bedrooms, $2,300 monthly

The report concludes that one looking to rent just a single bedroom unit must make a whopping $25.23 per hour to meet the 30% threshold. To compare, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties clocked in at just under $17.00 per hour. San Diego was $19.85 with LA being $20.83. As you can see, the Inland Empire is the place to live if you want to live somewhere decent and not have to dedicate a majority of your income into housing. Not surprisingly, the highest livable housing wage was San Francisco where a worker must make at least $29.83 per hour to afford rent for a single bedroom unit in order to purpose at least 70% of his/her income to matters unrelated to housing.

More facts according to the report: A minimum-wage worker must work an astounding 126 hours per week to afford to budget 30% of earnings toward a one-bedroom unit at the fair market rent rate in Orange County. A household with one minimum wage worker can afford only $416 per month on rent if he/she allocated 30% of income. Find me rooms for rent or roommate units in the marketplace for each and every minimum wage worker in Orange County at $416 per month.

Woodbridge It's safe to say that many hardworking individuals budget far more than 30% of their incomes toward their housing obligations. Many simply have to do that in order to live. But by doing so, that leads to increased economic insecurity and paycheck-to-paycheck living as a larger proportion of their earnings must go towards housing expenses not including the utility bills.

To be fair, the median housing wage for a single bedroom unit in the Inland Empire is also on the high side at $17.00 per hour, but much more affordable than other parts of Southern California. That's why so many people elect to live in the Inland Empire and commute to jobs outside of the region.

Economics 101: Housing Supply and Demand

It's quite clear that housing is unaffordable even for many full-time workers in Orange County and a shortage of supply is primarily to blame. Even a high school 12th grader knows through economics that if supplies are kept short when demand rises, prices go through the roof.

That's why OC housing is expensive and such units are often shared, overcrowded or stressful. High prices prevents renters from saving up money and building up credit toward a down payment on a home purchase, which by the way, is another problem in OC. Because demands are so high and supplies so low, a household must make at least $82,000 per year in order to afford to pay the mortgage bill each month according to the report. Even though housing supplies are growing rapidly in south Irvine and east of San Juan Capistrano, those new developments have still failed to keep up with Orange County demands. In fact, despite these new developments, median housing prices went up $100,000 between 2012 and 2013 and Orange County’s median price is $240,000 more than the state's median price. That's because Orange County job growth is outpacing housing once again.

Keeping housing supplies low in a job-rich area which drives up prices keeps hard-working people in a state of fiscal poverty for those who attempt to live close to their jobs while driving up social poverty for those who elect to live farther out in more affordable regions but must spend hours each day commuting, time that can be better spent on more important things.

LA Fitness Signature club Irvine CA photo D Ramey Logan Can OC build its way out of a shortage?

How can we solve this problem specifically? Although the simple answer is increasing supplies, Orange County land is pretty much developed to its limits. What makes this issue even more challenging is the fact that many Orange County job sites are close to the beach. That further raises demands. This means that such growth and development issues have to be solved at the local level which would require public support of existing residents.

Getting to the bottom of forming a solid fact-based solution will require plenty of public outreach and robust debate among existing residents. Bottom line is job growth is outnumbering housing. That has to be balanced to counter the 1-2 hour commute in order to live in a desirable home. Here is what I submit:
  • The central goal should be to balance the job-to-housing ratio countywide with an overall goal to keep total commute times to under 30-45 minutes for workers and eliminate the requirement for long distance commuting which can span well over 1-2 hours.
  • Driving out jobs from Orange County to balance the scales is not an option.
  • The County of Orange and each affected city should put together a comprehensive transparent general master plan and updated land use zoning proposal to incentivize a balanced job-to-housing ratio for the entire county while protecting wildlife corridors and public open spaces. Officials should submit it to the public and host public open houses and town hall meetings to gather comments on future developments prior to adoption. Valid concerns from existing residents like local traffic congestion and crime must be integrated into the plan. Legit issues brought up by the public must not be ignored or stonewalled.
  • Officials need to be held accountable of carrying out the plan quickly. The public hearing period can last 4-6 months with permits issued thereafter. The increased supplies and competition would make housing affordable within the first 12-18 months.
  • Developers pay for or build all necessary infrastructure and transit upgrades to offset public concerns, especially traffic congestion.
  • In dense employment areas such as the South Coast Plaza area and the Irvine Business Complex, land use policies should support sufficient urban housing supply targeted to workers. Developers should also pay for start-up costs for expanded Bravo! Rapid service as a quick and speedy option to ferry the workers through these dense areas, connecting Metrolink stations and park & ride lots.
  • For Orange County's lighter density commercial corridors that link to the job hubs, jurisdictions should zone areas as specific plans so that it can support in-fill suburban condos and apartments all without over-densifying the region. These units also need to be family friendly with large interior living spaces and large common gathering areas. Major commercial streets can be found all over the county. Such 2-4 story housing and commons should be built at or near existing shopping centers.
  • Rules need to be in place to prevent artificial speculation of the housing market in the high demand areas. That means buyers cannot buy and buy and buy inventory and do nothing simply to keep prices high. Somebody has to be living there. To be fair, all legit investments must be maintained. That is, landlords desiring to rent out the unit to tenants or investors wanting to improve and resell the property within a set timeframe would still have the freedom to do so.
  • Local officials need to hold the state accountable in reforming CEQA law so that NIMBY obstructionists cannot sue to block the legit infill housing plan in the name of the environment. How does balancing the job-to-housing ratio negate an ecosystem?

In addition, I've mentioned last week that driving out crime and solving social issues in troubled neighborhoods would also incentivize better investments and expand housing options.While this option may have a insignificant impact in Orange County, it would certainly make a difference in neighboring Los Angeles County.

The truth is Orange County officials cannot ignore the housing shortage issue for much longer. If job growth continues to outpace housing for its new workers in Orange County, traffic demands from the outer regions will worsen because such workers will be forced to commute long distances to/from work every day. That drives down worker productivity and increases demands for better high-paying jobs in the Inland Empire, which brings me to my next point...

What about the Inland Empire cities and their economies? What if its residents leave town to live closer to work?

I haven't forgotten about that point and I'll go more in detail next week. Balancing the job-to-housing ratio is a two-way process. In order to compete and keep existing bedroom communities strong, Inland Empire officials must continue to incentivize the marketplace to develop more high-paying jobs closer to home. Small business, medical and logistics is growing, but we still have a way to go. Proper oversight would ensure the scales are balanced with a robust job market and plenty of desirable housing options for the hardworking public anywhere in Southern California. More on that next week.

But whether it be chaotic social conditions in the urban centers or obstructing housing supply at the affluent job hubs, officials need to put forth executable solutions for its general land use plans to finally balance the job-to-housing ratio both here at home and in Orange County. It will require transparency and public outreach to do it right.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Transportation Tip: Help Metrolink CEO DePallo fix our broken regional railroad with solutions


By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


Metrolink is once again in the spotlight of bad news. Back in October, the funding conflict between the railroad and SANBAG never got resolved with a fair solution which resulted in the railroad cutting service on the Metrolink San Bernardino Line. Both a midday and the late night weekday roundtrip remain unfunded and out of service. We are calling on elected officials from both boards to resolve this issue and reactivate those runs. In addition, on time performance issues have surfaced over the past few months with late trains.

Now, there have been numerous reports of ticket vending machines failing all over Southern California. The Transit Coalition has confirmed this because our Executive Director Bart Reed ran into such a problem when taking the train. The Metrolink Diary Twitter page has also published numerous pictures of out-of-order TVM's throughout the region. Such malfunctions puts the railroad in a tough spot in regards to fare evasion enforcement. Getting the machines repaired or replaced is reported to be in the millions of dollars.

The railroad has some serious problems that need to be fixed so that Metrolink can operate at its best. It needs executable solutions so that the broken system can be repaired and operating at its best. To be fair, the railroad launched limited weekend service for the 91 Line last summer and has recently opened a portal for riders to connect to top officials. Metrolink CEO Michael P. DePallo has made a point in the August/September Metrolink Matters newsletter to better listen to riders. Here's what he had to say:

Since becoming Metrolink’s CEO, one of my top priorities is, and will continue to be, having an active, ongoing dialogue with you, our riders. I strongly believe that through continual discussion with you, we can institute changes to our service that best meet your needs and the needs of the railroad.

Last year, we launched the “Customer Connect” program. Each week, a Metrolink manager spends several hours at Union Station or a Metrolink station out in the field talking to passengers about their comments and concerns relating to our service, and then reports that input back to me. We have also convened three Rider Advisory Groups to get even more detailed feedback from our passengers, and so far we’ve received extremely valuable input from Metrolink riders.

In July, we took Customer Connect to a new level by launching a social media version of the program. On July 10 and 24, we held two customer engagement chats on Facebook in which riders asked questions of our staff. I want to thank those of you who contributed with your thoughtful interactions. It’s through an open dialogue like this that we can learn what matters to you most. In these sessions, daily issues such as service expansion and schedule adjustments were the most prominently discussed.

We not only want to hear what you think of our service today, but we also need your ideas on how we can make Metrolink an even more effective service in the future. This spring, we sought input from our riders when we launched our long-range Strategic Plan process. Hundreds of riders have filled out surveys and provided us valuable insights into their priorities for our future. Many comments were about increasing frequency of trains and expanding service throughout the day and into the weekend. Others suggested ways to adjust the quality of service, reduce delays, increase train speed, and reduce prices. We also received ideas about improving connections with buses and extending rail service beyond our service area. When the next phase of the Strategic Plan process begins, we will need to hear from you during that effort as well. Very soon, we will be developing a series of “vision scenarios” outlining different paths our system and service can take, and we need you to weigh in with your opinion of those scenarios.

In the coming months, we will be making critical decisions about the future of Metrolink, and more than ever, we need to continue to hear from you. Thank you to everyone who has given us their ideas and input so far, and we look forwarding to hearing more of your thoughts in the coming weeks and months.

In addition, Metrolink has established an online portal for comments and suggestions. Moving forward, there are several problems the railroad is now experiencing that have to solved. The railroad needs sound and fact-based solutions.

Transportation Tip: Brainstorm some solutions that will help Metrolink become better and more productive and submit them to agency staff. I'll have some other solutions posted to this blog soon.

DePallo wants to have an active dialog with your concerns. The Transit Coalition wants Metrolink to be at its best. Send him your ideas to fix and transform our broken regional rail system.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Smarter Smart Growth: Stopping Gang Crimes and fixing Urban Blight

How can Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles workers be incentivized to live where they work?
Smarter Smart Growth: Stopping gang crime and incentivizing the market to renovate blighted neighborhoods can entice workers in many cities to live closer to work with several affordable housing options ranging from rooms for rent, to urban apartment towers, suburban condos, town houses, single family tracts, and rural ranches.
Note: Concepts only. Not official proposals.
Map OpenStreetMap contributors. Tiles courtesy of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Housing Photos (C) Wikimedia Commons/Dolovis, Alex Proimos, Remi Mathis, Axou, House10902 CC-BY-SA
Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com
Smart Growth has no universal definition but its goal is to generally promote communities that offer transportation choices, cut down on unnecessary long distance commuting, stopping runaway developer pandering, and protecting ecosystems. Smart Growth has been criticized by some and as I pointed last week, valid points from critics need to be considered in the debate.

One fact that is not questionable is many Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles area workers live far from their work sites even though housing in these areas is adequate. Yes, I did include LA because there is plenty of supply to meet demands. The problem is insufficient quality supply. In LA, the limited quality housing supply can be found in places like Bel Air, Beverly Hills, West LA, and Pacific Palisades, but prices are way too high as demands outweigh supply in these affluent ares. Want affordable housing prices while keeping the short trip to LA job centers and destinations? Look into South LA, Boyle Heights, and Compton. I think you know where I'm going with this discussion, and it's not about people loving their cars and wanting to drive long distances in them every day.

So why do these area workers elect not to live in the same neighborhood where they work? The answer is simple. Too much gang crime and social chaos. Because many parts of LA and portions of the surrounding neighborhoods in Riverside and San Bernardino are plagued in such blight and riff raff which deincentivizes the market from cleaning up and investing in those areas, its workers will elect to live in other parts of the region. It's pure common sense for workers to live away from such bad behavior so that it won't interfere with the welfare of themselves and their families. Such mass displacement drives up demand and prices in other developed areas to the point where many workers are priced out which then incentivizes the market to develop housing even further away from the job sites. And that is the truth.

Stopping Crime is not pro-Agenda 21 ideology. It should be a universal desire.

Some critics link smart growth with the United Nation's Agenda 21 and thus conclude such managed growth is bad public policy. But let me ask the critics: What is wrong with driving out gang crime so that places like South LA, Riverside's Eastside, and San Bernardino's D Street corridor can be at their best states and desirable places for its workers to live? If the violent gang crime and human trafficking are expelled from these troubled places, more workers will elect to live there which would offset demands in far-off places and thus reduce long distance commuting. That would also entice the marketplace to renovate and rebuild existing housing in these areas. Why would we want these places to continue to be second-rate neighborhoods?

Smarter Smart Growth

I've already pointed out on this blog some solutions which by the way you probably won't find in the UN's Agenda 21 Sustainable Development. Here's a rundown of them:
  • LA, San Bernardino, Riverside and any other city dealing with gang crime needs to help the private non-profit sector, which is already doing a tremendous job in trying hard to get their neighborhoods at their best state. These include growing youth mentor programs and restorative programs for the incarcerated of whom desire to turn away from crime. The cities need to ensure these non-profit groups can operate and fulfill their missions by making sure that any unnecessary government rules that could get in the way of their goals of making the city socially better be reformed and streamlined right away.
  • Resources need to be allocated to law enforcement so troubled areas can be flooded with watchdogs which would result in the criminals and human traffickers being taken off the streets. Youth Explorer, Reserve Deputy and citizen volunteer programs need to be funded to the point where every qualified volunteer applicant desiring to serve who passes the background checks has something to do to help the paid full time officers fight back.
  • Public messages need to broadcasted in every middle and high school campus to discourage unwed teenage pregnancies which often leaves innocent children without a father.
  • Mentor programs offered to children in abusive or single parent homes need to be expanded.
  • Boys need to be educated and protected from being forced or "jumped" into the street gang culture. They need to be educated that the police is not the enemy and need to be trained what to do if he is to be pressured into a gang.
These solutions which is fiscally conservative to the taxpayer would almost certainly eradicate gangs from troubled areas because such criminal entities constantly rely on new members and with a strong law enforcement presence, criminals would be deterred from committing crimes. For those already in jail, the non-profit sector needs to be able to minister and assist the incarcerated inmates who desire to turn away from the criminal culture. In addition, every public entity that works in this field should point interested public to President Obama's My Brother Keeper and its portal to mentor a troubled youth.

We need to continue to confront this terrible problem which prevents these cities from attaining their best state. Giving their workers the chance to live there by ridding the crime from its roots will bring about tremendous value and additional opportunities for existing residents.

That is smarter smart growth.