Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December & Christmas 2015 Transit Briefing

by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I hope this Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year holiday season is going well for you. It's been a busy year out there on our transportation networks. I want to thank you for checking in on this blog, our websites, and social networking channels and staying informed of transportation policy.

Metrolink Perris Valley Line

The big story that's going to unfold in January is the opening of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line. The new infrastructure will be served by an extension of the weekday runs of the existing 91 Line from Riverside Downtown to South Perris. Once open, one will be able to train from the Perris Valley into Los Angeles through northern Orange County and vice versa. RTA has big plans to launch feeder bus service to/from the new stations which will allow riders to better connect to their final destinations.

This will certainly be an asset for the citizens living or working along the I-215 corridor in between Menifee and Moreno Valley. I predict the 91 Line will be more productive with the increased station pairs.

Getting Productive Discussion Going for CA High Speed Rail 

The high speed rail debate continues to be divisive. A lot of people who I network with want CA HSR stopped. However, for the most part, the dissenters generally don't object to having the private sector invest in the technology. That's where transit advocates can play a powerful card in the debate.

When I mention marketplace investments in the discussion which this U.S. Congress generally supports, the tune often changes. As you may know, the XpressWest bullet train proposal between Los Angeles and Vegas with Victorville as the starting orgin point is a privately funded route.

Regarding CA HSR project, I also understand that some individual officials within the state are trying to be honest and to do their part to develop HSR the correct way, but the politicians need to clear the way of any political roadblocks so that the voter-approved money will be spent wisely, right-of-ways and stations in high demand areas secured, and routes made shovel-ready so that the high speed rail industry like XpressWest can develop and fund the remainder of California's master plan.

Streetcars, Riverside Reconnects and RTA RapidLink

In Riverside, the Press Enterprise published another dissenting editorial piece against the Riverside Reconnects Streetcar project. The City proposes to upgrade the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors with the modern light rail fleets within the right-of-way corridors.

The Transit Coalition generally supports urban light rail in the form of streetcars and peoplemovers. That's because transit demands in the Los Angeles region have reached points where such infrastructure is necessary to shuttle mass amounts of people throughout a dense area in the city at a productive operating cost. The current LA Metro Local, Rapid and City-operated buses cannot sustain that while the Metro Rail system (not to be confused with Metrolink) is designed for longer-haul trips throughout the city.

However, unlike the urban rail projects unfolding in the LA area, the newspaper is not wrong to criticize the City of Arts & Innovation's train proposal. That's because current demands and travel patterns show that first-rate RTA rapid buses with expanded Metrolink service would better address the region's needs. I think RTA's long-planned proposal to phase in limited stop RapidLink bus service for the corridor as an alternative starting with peak-hour service should move forward as the solution. This alternative has underwent numerous studies already and should be played out given current demographics. Factor in Metrolink trains passing through every 30-60 minutes during the middle of the day, and Riverside can have a robust Riverside Reconnects project.

But if growth and changes to these patterns do demand that the local transit infrastructure be upgraded from Rapid buses to urban rail and if the city can draw such infill development along the routes, then let's go for the streetcar by working through RTA and allow private developers to chime in on funding the tracks and stations in return for a tax break. Also, if the City wants to show off, I don't object to pro-history and entertainment entrepreneurs coming in and investing private dollars in tourist-oriented streetcar services too. Temecula has a number of private shuttle buses that mimic the historic trolley which serve the Wine Country area and those eye-catching vehicles do bring value to the region.

However, I think the PE's editorial board may want to have a chat with RTA Marketing Manager Brad Weaver on transit ridership stats before publishing any further claims that "people generally don’t use them". Bus boardings are at all-time highs and Riverside's numbers are sufficient enough to support RapidLink service, period.

Corona Cruiser Upgraded Buses
On the local front, the Corona Cruiser bus system is getting closer of having mid-size buses replace the smaller fleets for the fixed route services. The new coaches have arrived to Circle City and are undergoing testing and driver training. Major route restructuring is on the way and I'll keep a close watch on that as portions of the existing Red and Blue lines are circuitous and overdue to be streamlined for faster trip times.

In November, Corona's Public Services Committee had a meeting covering the temporary re-routing of the Cruiser and showed this slide, offering a "sneak-peek" of the new buses:

If you ride the Corona Cruiser regularly, you're in for a better ride throughout Circle City.

Gas prices are going down and up...What?

Finally, the state once again in is caught up with more local oil refinery issues, a decline in imports leading to a so-called fuel supply shortage which means gas prices have ticked up for the last couple days. That's despite the fact that gas prices are going down elsewhere in the nation. Oil supplies domesticity are at record high levels. Crude oil prices are at their low point. Many gas stations in the USA have prices that have dropped below $1.70 gallon and falling. But California's prices are headed back up toward $3.00. Makes perfect sense, right? These spikes, all isolated within the state have already happened multiple times this year, and what does the state do about it to prevent it from repeating? Nothing. Last summer, I posted a memo on the repercussions of high gas prices in relation to the transit system.

This crony capitalism affects us all through increased living costs whether or not one drives a car and it's long past time for the state to fix this.

Anyway, this is my final post for this year. I'll be spending time with the family but I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I do appreciate you all following this blog. 2016 is going to be an active year in transit. Talk to you then.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why Corona is "a city plagued by gridlock"

...and how pro-active policing prevented a horrific long-planned 91 terror attack.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Two weeks ago, the Press Enterprise published an extensive article headlined on the front page of its Local section that reported the continued traffic mess in the City of Corona. Also in yesterday's paper, another front page article described how the 91 was a potential target of mass terrorism which, thank God, never happened. I'll touch base on the foiled terror plan in a moment, but first the traffic problem.

To put a long story short, the 91 carries about 250,000 cars per day with the vast majority of them commuting to and from Orange County through the Santa Ana Canyon. Peak-hour carpooling and transit usage is very high with some of the most productive commuter express bus routes, packed Metrolink train platforms, congested carpool lanes and crowded park & ride lots all adding up to define the rush hour transit landscape. And these numbers are expected to grow.

With the construction of the 91 Project through the Circle City, many motorists have resorted to cut through on the east/west surface streets in an attempt to bypass the peak-hour congestion, some of which too are undergoing construction. As a result, Corona's main roads in and around the 91 and I-15 freeways are also heavily congested by outside through traffic during the rush hours, and that has infuriated residents.

When the newspaper interviewed Corona Traffic Manager Dennis Ralls about this problem, he hit the nail on the head and told the truth. He reported that the $1.4 billion 91 Project is not the cure-all for the Corona Crawl. But the second point that he raised is the key.

"To solve the problem, you either have to build another major alternative or more people have to start working closer to home," Ralls said.


Both must happen. And as a transit advocate, here's my "major alternative" and the governments of all levels should begin commencing it immediately.

1. Fully fund the 91 Express Lanes and promote Carpooling

Given the fact that the 91 corridor has very high demands right up there with an interstate, both the state and federal governments need to appropriate money to fully pay off the toll bond debt for the 91 Express Lanes for both counties. Once that happens, state and local officials should revisit its usage and occupancy requirement rules. I suggest abolishing the FasTrak transponder requirement for all carpools and keeping the 3-person minimum during rush hours, summer weekends and holidays for toll-free travel, 2-persons other times. If there's space available, non-carpools can still use their FasTrak transponders and buy their way in at the market rate to prevent the empty lane syndrome. If the HOT lanes become congested or approach full capacity, then dynamic signs would redesignate the lanes as carpool lanes by restricting non-HOV's from entering. It would revert back to HOT lanes once traffic clears up and space becomes available.

2. Develop Direct Access Ramps for the 91 Express Lanes at Major Transit Hubs

I-15 Express Lanes Direct Access Ramp
Better carpool and transit infrastructure needs to be developed for the 91 Express Lanes in both counties. There needs to be seamless connections between the North Main Corona Transit Center, the Savi Ranch area where a local bus transfer hub should be established, and the Village at Orange. Direct access ramps can make that happen. You're likely wondering, "What about funding?" That's true. Public funds are limited and taxes are already too high. But maybe a developer out there in the marketplace could be thinking about building some spacious townhomes over the sprawling parking lot at the Village at Orange, a spot in desperate need of better housing choices. If the governments told the development industry that it would get a generous break on taxes if a public parking garage and a direct access ramp at Meats Avenue were included in the housing projects and the developer agreed, then we would not have to wait decades for this to get built. The only thing the government would have to do is offer the tax break on the industry in a fair and transparent means and secure the right-of-way for the ramp and park & ride garage. That would go a long way and would allow Riverside Transit Agency Route 216 to operate at its prime and could lead the way for it to be rebranded as a rapid express line.

3. Upgrade Passenger Rail Service Options

Track infrastructure in between San Bernardino and Los Angeles via the 91 needs to be upgraded to the point where Metrolink trains can pass through the corridor every 15 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes other times without disrupting BNSF freight trains. Like the direct access ramp funding issue, securing public funds would be very slow. But the money acquiring process could be sped up by working with BNSF and the private sector. Perhaps a tax break can give the Class One railroad an incentive to reinstate intercity passenger rail service. Or maybe the firm behind the XpressWest would be interested in extending a branch of the Las Vegas bullet train to the Anaheim Transportation Center via the 91 corridor if there was tax break incentive to do so. Part of the deal would be to allow Metrolink to run high speed IEOC Line express trains on the high speed tracks so that commuters can use high speed rail. Inland stops would include North Main Corona, Riverside, and San Bernardnio. Destination stops would be Anaheim, Tustin and Irvine.

4. Better allow working people to live where they work

Last but not least, the governments, both state and local, must finally reform any puritanical and trivial regulatory red tape that prevents developers from providing the infrastructure that would allow Ralls' second solution of "more people have to start working closer to home" to become a reality.

Look. The truth is people working in Orange County are electing to live in the Inland Empire not because they like driving long distances to and from work in their cars. It's not about people loving their cars. That would be insane. The reason people live far from their jobs is because quality and non-subsidized affordable housing is generally not available west of Santa Ana Canyon. Likewise, high-paying jobs are generally lacking in the Inland Empire although to be fair, logistics, construction, medical, and entry-level retail jobs are growing and small businesses continue to invest in areas like Corona and Murrieta. We're doing our part and we must continue to allow the marketplace to grow the good-paying positions. Once there's good competition in the Inland Empire job market, median salaries will go up because employers would actually have to look and compete for skilled labor or face costly employee turnover.

But with the demands for better housing way up in Orange County, you would think it would be a developer's dream to go into that region and address it by transforming the suburban shopping centers and strip malls into new, safe, and robust community-oriented transit villages with spacious, family friendly units with mid-level offices and ground-level retail outlets.

Obviously, that demand is not being met because high taxation and awful trivial regulatory rules at the state level combined with the general lack of mixed-use zones in retail and commercial districts locally prevent the builders from profiting from such work. Heck, even a competing firm or a NIMBY group can simply walk in and file a frivolous CEQA suit against such in-fill development and get away with it financially. To be fair, some OC cities have allowed for residential development in existing commercial corridors, but more has to be done.

Ironically, state politicians are calling for better growth and reduced vehicles miles travelled under the climate change banner. But the fact that existing law is exacerbating traffic gridlock through the Santa Ana Canyon and other corridors in and out of Orange County should wake up the politicians. Where is the environmental law that says that if housing costs surge in a job-rich region due to lack of infrastructure and high demands which results in a substantial increase in vehicle miles travelled, the local jurisdictions within 10 miles of the job hub are to complete a general plan update and public hearing, zone the regions for infill housing and make them shovel-ready with the state expediting the environmental review work with same-day approvals and protection against CEQA abuse. Where is that law which would draw developer competition with quality housing and lower prices?

It is long past time to solve this problem as this entire Inland Empire urban sprawl disaster has been going on for far too long. The remark that I commonly hear of homebuyers wanting spacious and cheaper family-friendly housing units in the Inland Empire is valid; I must make that clear. The culture of high demands of living in large, new homes is a contributor to the sprawl development on far-off, low-cost land on the outer finges next to new or non-congested highways. But if competing developers offered the same 3,000-4,000 square foot single family units in the form of stacked condos and apartments with plenty of open space commons, the cost to buy or rent one of those would be competitive at about $1,500 per month if supplies actually met demands. But right now, the market rate for one of these units in Orange County would be well over $1 million or about $4,000-$4,500 monthly.

That's why so many people commute on the 91. That's why Corona is plagued by gridlock.

Terror attack averted

Finally, with the crowds of commuters clogging the 91 each day, the terrorists behind the shooting massacre in San Bernardino were looking into committing a horrific act on the freeway during the rush hour according to the FBI, possibly in the heart of the canyon. The foiled plot that was initially planned a few years ago was to detonate a pipe bomb on the freeway in order to bring traffic to a halt. That would be followed by a shooting massacre on the helpless stopped traffic. Part of the mission was to shoot down the first responders who came in according to the report which would have led to all hell breaking loose on the 91. Also, Riverside Community College was another target.

With proactive law enforcement tactics following the San Bernardino shootings with the help of citizens' tips, that long-planned barbaric plot will not be executed. Thank God. Because this failed operation is now exposed, count on stronger intelligence-driven law enforcement along this and all other major transportation corridors. The suspect Enrique Marquez Jr is being held in a federal prison facility in Downtown Los Angeles.

And after hearing this story, I may actually smile the next time I'm stuck in traffic in Corona and it will likely be that way for some time. That's because I'll be thankful to the men and women in the law enforcement who risk their lives to protect gridlocked corridors from becoming terror targets. I'll never forget that each time I pass through the Corona Crawl.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Proactive Policing of the Transit System

How improved citizen and community involvement in law enforcement can reduce crime and terrorism.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

With San Bernardino being hit with an act of terror, potentially through ISIS, many people are now focused on one key global issue: Terrorism. 74 years ago from today, Pearl Harbor was attacked in an act of war by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Today, both ISIS and individual acts of violence continue wreck havoc all over the world.

Growing evidence is showing a connection of last Wednesday's massacre of the Inland Regional Center with radical Islamic terrorism. If investigators do find beyond a reasonable doubt that this shooting is linked with the Middle East and find that the Islamic State is responsible for this attack, count on this being an international story. But as I've stated numerous times, the transit infrastructure that we work hard to develop needs to be protected against all forms of violence and vandalism. That includes acts of terror. If a transit hub becomes a center for crime or a target for massacres or terrorism, what good will it be for We the People? I don't want our bus and train systems to become death traps.

So, how can we fight back?

To be clear, this is a transit blog. And The Transit Coalition does not pander to any other private or public entity. So I won't veer into the specific territories of any political agenda which includes partisan gun control laws. I will say that criminals and terrorists should not have the ability to commit crimes with any deadly weapon. At the same point, law abiding citizens must have the right and means to protect themselves through the 2nd Amendment. That's where proactive protection comes into play.

How proactive protection can secure transit

I strongly believe that our mass transportation system can be better protected through a process known as proactive policing.

In many cases, after a crime or act of terror occurs, the police react. That is called reactive policing. In contrast, proactive enforcement provides an extra layer of protection that could deter the act altogether.

The Community Oriented Policing Services office under the U.S. Justice Department defines proactive, community policing as "a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime." To be clear, proactive policing is not the cure-all solution to crime or terrorist acts at the local level. But being better prepared can stop many criminal and evil acts before they occur. The Justice Department has a good record in stopping would-be terrorists in the country in the past but we need to bring such tactics down to the local level.

So let's take the Corona Transit Center for example. This facility is off to a good start with 24/7 security and video cameras. I believe the surveillance at the station and aboard the RTA buses has helped deter vandalism. Good.

How can that be further improved? Let's suppose local law enforcement in the Circle City networked with RTA and directly with a group of regular commuters who transfer between Metrolink and CommuterLink express buses each and every workday. If that happened, the station area as well as their respective transit fleets could very well have a Neighborhood Watch arm, with a team of vigilant transit riders helping paid law enforcement in watching out for potential trouble before it happens.

In addition, by expanding the unpaid volunteer law enforcement ranks which would provide a stepping stone for those interested in careers in the field, the City of Corona could have one or more armed reserve deputies on patrol in the station block 24/7, proactively deterring violent crime. Any other block that has issues with gang crime, trafficking, or drug sales should also have a proactive law enforcement presence. With the strong support help, paid officers can then focus on the big and complicated tasks such as undercover investigations and criminal sting operations as their proactive tools.

With these or similar tactics, there would be enough defense and protection in the station block to be able to deter crimes and if necessary, disrupt and physically stop criminals as they attack, not well after. That would go a long way in preventing massacres and terrorism from quickly spreading in crowded transit stations before it becomes widespread.

The San Bernardino shooting mostly had a reactive enforcement presence, but there was some proactive activity. That was due to a citizens' tip which allowed police to catch the killers. That allowed investigators to identify and inspect their home in Redlands where they found the ammunition, pipe bombs and other circumstantial evidence linked to terrorism. Had the citizen not tipped off police, the terrorists may have gotten away and the situation could have been a whole lot worse. Plus, the possibility that ISIS played a role would not have been exposed. But we did catch the killers who were both shot down during a shootoff and law enforcement may have potentially found a link to organized worldwide terrorism.

Moving forward, it is long past time for the world's leaders to finally use military forces in an intelligent way to isolate ISIS and any other terror group and prevent them from bringing about further death and destruction to the world. We don't need this escalating to a full world war. Radical Islamic terrorism must be wiped from the face of the planet.

Once ISIS is isolated, the long-range diplomatic solution to all of this is for the world to challenge the head Islamic leaders to stop tolerating the radical interpretation of both the religion and Sharia law. I can say for certainty that the vast majority of good Muslims do not believe in the killing or massacring of innocents. The Press Enterprise reported today that local mosques have been preaching that since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Good progress, but the big leaders need to get involved and put that message front and center.

In terms of combating local and gang violence in San Bernardino, the numerous non-profit organizations there need to continue to do their good works in mentoring troubled youth, victims of human trafficking, the homeless and other people in need. By providing a place of belonging and mentors for teenagers growing up in abusive environments like the Country Inn Motel, the caring people at these non-profits can have a positive impact on the kids and discourage them from entering into the criminal gang culture. In the meantime, proactive law enforcement needs to be present to isolate and catch the criminal and gang leaders before they strike again.

Being a part of the USA, our transit centers and fleets should be tools for Americans to bring about life, liberty, and the pursuit for happiness to all who live here. The life aspect must be protected.

Friday, December 4, 2015

God Bless San Bernardino

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I have a transit briefing written up as we commence the final month of 2015. However, because of the terrible shooting incident that occurred in San Bernardino, I will table that post until next week.

This act of terror with a potential connection to ISIS took place Wednesday at the Inland Regional Center. It was broadcasted all over the news media at the national level. The press inundated us with the bad news. As authorities and government officials continue to solve this case, we should remember all of the people who passed on, their family members, and those who are hospitalized.

With terrorism now entering into the Inland Empire, I believe We the People may be finally woken up to this grave crisis. There's a lot to debate from the story of how we should move forward with proactive preventative measures and how it relates to the transit system. But for now, we citizens need to spend the next few days remembering those who gone before us in this incident and allow the authorities to uncover the facts.

Talk to you next week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Making the World a Cleaner Place

Protecting lives and reducing pollution in developing nations should be the goal of the UN Climate Change conference.

This NASA photo shows dirty smog off the coast of China. Could this be a major contributor toward climate change or not?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition supports environmental justice and a cleaner planet to call home. The reasons should be obvious. While waiting for the bus or train, we, human beings need to breathe clean air. When we get home, we need to drink clean water and be nourished by food grown and harvested in chemical-free environments.

This week, there was quite a bit of media coverage over the United Nation's conference on climate change in Paris. World leaders and powerful politicians continue to place this issue high on the priority list, even though terrorism and the market economy remain the top concerns of US citizens according to the major polls.

That being said, there's quite a bit of politics involved in the climate change discussion. But these people really need to stop turning this valid issue into a political circus; the ideological, partisan agenda is to tax and fee the free marketplace. Of course, the increased costs and degraded services are passed down to We the People. One absolutely foolish comment I continue to hear is that terrorism is caused by climate change in the context of the Earth's temperature. By the way, protecting us from acts of terror and doing something about it should be the UN's priority campaign. Governments need to protect their people.

To be clear, hard scientific facts document that the Earth's temperature is changing. There is evidence that this is happening. Whether such fluctuations are caused as a part of natural evolution or man-made pollution remains hotly debated. Solid cases can be made on both sides. But erring on the side of caution, supporting efficient and non-punitive policies that make the Earth a cleaner place should be the universal goal whether one believes in man-made global warming or not.

Benxi Steel Industries
China remains a major global pollutant.
Being a global conference, the focus should be to hold the world pollutants to account, which include China, India, and other developing countries. The good people living in these nations generally have to breathe unhealthy air, drink polluted water, and consume food grown around dirty chemicals. Most live in dire poverty and lack the freedoms we enjoy here in the USA. That means they can't speak out against their oppressive governments over the life-threatening pollution problems.

However, We the People of the USA can take an active role because we do have the freedom to voice opinion and invest our resources globally. By cleaning up the drinking water, air quality, and farms in these countries, lives can be saved and serious transformations can take place for the better while deducing whether or not the climate change is man-made. If China and India do clean up their environments by significantly reducing their greenhouse gases and we see the reversal of the global warming stats worldwide (not just locally in the polluted regions), then the answer we've all been waiting for may come to reality: Are humans directly responsible for the Earth's climate change or was it part of natural evolution?

Global leaders should promote cleaning up the environment of the world's polluters without placing any heavy tax or fee burdens on the hardworking people or the industries providing the jobs. The way to do that is to allow investors to go into these countries and introduce clean alternative products while the governments hold the pollutants to account. Those items would be part of the trade agreement. The people living in these dirty areas can only dream of living in a cleaner environment and demands for such innovative products would be certainly high. I believe the marketplace can provide that.

Southwest Riverside County area enjoys clean air with fuel-efficient cars.
Note: I-15 Express Lanes pictured is concept only.
The combination of efficient government oversight with marketplace innovation has led to much cleaner cars and transit fleets here in the USA. The solar panel industry continues to mature and grow, providing for clean and renewable electricity. Computers and electronics are becoming more powerful yet consume less electricity. Bright LED light bulbs are allowing us to see better while going green on power consumption.  Again, the market delivered this under effective regulatory oversight on the polluters. Why can it not work elsewhere?

That is the fair position. That will clean things up in a non-punitive way while maintaining and growing the job markets for the good people living there. Plus, we may finally get some straight answers to this politically divisive climate change debate.

I hope this proposition can bring some common ground and unity for a first-rate economy and cleaner planet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Being Thankful for Responsive Citizens and Local Leaders

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

You may remember from last week through the media that the contractor in charge of building the $1.4 billion worth of infrastructure upgrades for the 91 Freeway through Corona was grilled by the People of Circle City.

To put a long story short, citizens expressed anger at a Corona City Council meeting over serious traffic and collision issues which sparked action from the public works department. Public works then wrote to the 91 Project Manager demanding the fixes. The contractor then got a few words from RCTC. If one simplifies the equation, the result is citizens grilling the construction contractor.

Two days ago, I was in Corona and noted several improvements right away. Workers were present later in the afternoon and into the night hours. Infrastructure was progressing more efficiently. The most notable was Main Street, which was re-striped with additional turn lanes at the 91 and traffic signals better timed, ending the infamous Corona Squeeze for this local arterial.

In addition, the pedestrian sidewalk at the freeway along Main Street which connects the transit center to the central core of Corona was re-opened and made ADA accessible with temporary wheelchair ramps and striping which helped bridge a major transportation gap. Before the sidewalk was rebuilt, those on foot needing to cross the 91 Freeway in this area had to detour all the way to West Grand Circle or shuttle in on a bus.

The good people of the City of Corona are to be commended for bringing this matter to their governing body and Corona's response demonstrates once again that public hearings never close.

Stay with the Family this Thanksgiving Holiday

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, there's another story that I'm thankful for. Time Magazine reported that the encroachment of materialism into the family holiday that has been going on for years has finally gone flat. That was mainly due to disappointing sales on Thanksgiving combined with family-oriented people like me electing to stay with the folks during the turkey feast for the entire night. A recent poll by RichRelevance showed that nearly two thirds of shoppers said they disliked stores being open on Thanksgiving Day.

Also this year, "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" Internet deals have been circulating and saturating the retail marketplace for several weeks already. Believe it or not, that may very well improve transportation mobility by unclogging the streets around retailers in between Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Just a few years ago when a major retailer hosted door-buster deals at the stroke of midnight on Black Friday, the streets and parking lots were congested.

Now, one just needs to spend about 10-15 minutes searching for a good "Door Buster" deal with free shipping, place an order, and get back with the family. Time reports that this factor would make further encroachment into Thanksgiving less likely. In fact, outdoor specialty retailer REI announced that it will be closed both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

I think times are changing for the better in this field. I'll keep a watch on this trend in the coming years. Hopefully soon, we just might see some good deals, lower fares and competitive transportation services for Thanksgiving travel before and after the holiday. Add to that robust infrastructure for such services. That would be a Black Friday deal I would like to see!

I encourage all who are reading this post to stay with the family on Thanksgiving for the entire day and evening and consider doing that for the entire four-day weekend. With cold weather coming into the Inland Empire, you may want to avoid the 30 degree night by not camping in front of a store this year. The power of the Internet and market competition on good deals may finally put a stop to the materialistic drive that encroaches into the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Travel safely. 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 during this season.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The High Speed Rail Confusion Continues

If high speed rail opponents fear government waste, why not support the growth of the technology through the private sector?

Shinkansen N700 & 500 (8086228483)

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Opponents of California High Speed Rail have had their day after two state lawmakers submitted language for a ballot measure that would ask California voters to divert about $8 billion in bond money from the state’s high-speed rail project to develop water infrastructure.

Shortly after the move made the headlines, The Press Enterprise published another anti-HSR editorial stating:

From its inception, we have criticized the bullet train boondoggle, which passed with just 53 percent of votes. For one thing, there’s no way Congress, now controlled by Republicans, will appropriate any more money, as required by the initiative.

But I believe there's a lot of confusion stemming from this divisive debate, and we need to find some common ground before California loses out in an opportunity to reshape intercity travel for the better.

First off, I believe this Congress does support improving the market economy which is one of the top concerns of U.S. citizens according to the major polls, the other being terrorism. When it comes to the marketplace running the show in other sectors, the PE generally agrees and I strongly think the majority of Congress will vote for policies that would permit free market growth. The same day, the newspaper editorialized this and printed the memo directly above the anti-HSR piece:

Competition is a good thing, Andrew Belknap of Management Partners reminded the San Bernardino City Council on Monday, as the city approved outsourcing refuse services. With a 6-1 vote, the city moved forward with contracting out solid waste management, street sweeping and right-of-way clean-up to a private company, Burrtec.

As the city reported in May in its proposed bankruptcy recovery plan, most municipalities deal with such functions through the private sector. “Given the expertise developed in multiple jurisdictions and by these waste companies … it is likely that contracting these services to a private company will result in lower costs to provide the service and increased franchise fees to the General Fund,” reported the city.

From the taxpayers’ perspective, there was never a good reason not to hand over the reins to the private sector. If a service can be provided at a lower cost, without compromising quality, it makes plenty of sense to go with that option. Indeed, for refuse services, the city enjoyed several competing options: Burrtec, Athens, CR&R Industries and Republic Industries responded to a request for proposals.

What about the private sector's roll in the so-called "bullet train boondoggle"? Enter in the proposed XpressWest HSR system.

Last week, the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously selected XpressWest as the Silver State's franchisee for constructing a high-speed rail system that connects Las Vegas with Southern California. Four other firms that submitted applications were not selected but offered interesting alternative high speed transit concepts.

XpressWest officials told the Las Vegas Sun that construction of the privately funded route could start as early as fall 2016 which has already attracted outside investments. The finished project aims to connect Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The first phase links Victorville to Vegas, projected to cost about $8 billion. At about 190 miles, that adds up to only $42 million per mile of bullet train infrastructure. To compare, the CHSRA Business Plan for Phase I calls for a $68.4 billion budget at 520 miles, equalling $132 million per mile. Both the City of San Bernardino's and the PE editorial board's argument of having the private sector operate services has a general valid point. The question I have is why did the PE not mention private investments in the anti-HSR piece as an alternative? The technology has long been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to improve high speed intercity travel options in Europe and Asia, and we have entrepreneurs interested in investing private capital into high speed rail within the state. So, why throw out the baby with the bathwater?

Phase II of XpressWest will link Victorville to Palmdale. Phase III calls for a direct connection to LA using CAHSR infrastructure which is why the state should use cash from the approved seed money to complete the geo-technical studies for the Burbank-to-Palmdale HSR tunnel and get it shovel-ready if feasible. Investors like XpressWest would pay for engineering and construction at the market rate. Longer-range proposals call for expansions east to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver. With CHSRA infrastructure, future phases could be extended north to San Francisco and south to San Diego via the Inland Empire. That could include a branch for the Irvine-Corona Expressway tunnel corridor. Hence, the remainder of the CHSRA master plan could be funded in a conservative way through the market economy while the state gets the system shovel-ready.

Can you see the benefits of developing the bullet train and understand why we want high speed rail done right? While getting additional public tax or government bond money into the statewide master plan seems unlikely as the PE correctly points, California should have more than enough resources to spend the approved seed money wisely so that investors like XpressWest can pay into and develop the rest of the system and beyond and offer competitive top-tier services at lower fares.

The state government really needs to stop overspending and displacing our transportation funds. You can see why the people are fed up with this type of behavior and are erroneously calling for the $8 billion in HSR seed money to be re-purposed.

Yes, I do agree that California is in a serious drought and policy reforms need to be made at the state level to resolve that.

But if the state draws more private investments into the bullet train and grows the market economy through regulatory reform that would increase marketplace non-government jobs, maybe all this HSR confusion will be rectified. Opponents may then have a different tune and not want to throw out the resources needed to expand the proven rail technology and marketplace jobs with the government waste. The state and private sector could then afford to expand the infrastructure that is necessary to better move people while improving the harvesting technology of rain water and snow runoff simultaneously.

So let's stop trying to derail the bullet train with the Brown Boondoggle. High speed rail can offer tremendous benefits and opportunities. Both We the People of the State of California and the American marketplace should seize that opportunity.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November Inland Empire Transit Briefing

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Transit in the Inland Empire continues to blossom. I'll touch base on a few examples in a moment.

Some projects up in LA are moving forward too. You are probably aware that the Purple Line Extension, the Downtown Regional Connector and the Crenshaw Line are pushing forward. The transit network will expand with the opening of the Foothill Gold Line on Saturday, March 5, 2016, and the Expo Line, perhaps in May as new rail cars arrive. If you commute into LA from the Inland Empire, public transportation could very well work for you with the expanded and seamless feeder connections from Union Station.

However, there are a series of other important infrastructure projects in Los Angeles that are in big trouble. The projects under threat include the Palmdale to Burbank CA High-Speed Rail Segment, the Santa Clarita to Los Angeles Bookends Projects, the Chatsworth to Van Nuys Double Track Project, the Downtown Streetcar Project and Angels Flight. One project, the San Pedro Streetcar has already been shut down due to political inaction and others can follow, due to lack of broad public and political support.

The Transit Coalition has been actively meeting with elected officials and their staff members to educate that choices and alternatives are necessary. We attend public meetings and provide a counter-balance to the opponents of transit that attempt to shut projects down. We communicate with industry and the building trades to show support.

But here in the Inland Empire, things are not too bad and I credit the growing market economy. The long-awaited Perris Valley Line which entered into the testing phase will finally open by the end of this year. Transit infrastructure continues to grow all over San Bernardnio with the city now having its own mini Grand Central Terminal and Riverside Transit Agency's long-proposed RapidLink services are set to debut late in 2016 during the rush hours.

On top of that...

Coachella Valley Amtrak Line
The Riverside County Transportation Commission approved the general routing of a long-proposed Amtrak route that will connect Los Angeles to Indio. The initial service plan calls for two daily round trips along the corridor.

From LA, the line will follow the existing Metrolink 91 Line through Fullerton to Colton via the BNSF right-of-way. It would then turn east at the Colton Crossing and follow the UP tracks that parallel the I-10 freeway into the south desert.

Currently the LA-to-Indio route is served by the long-distance Amtrak Sunset Limited that operates three trains in each direction per week.

Upgrading the train service into the Coachella Valley is long overdue considering that it is a major metropolitan area in Southern California worthy of better public transportation connections. Government officials have been talking about this service for over two decades. Yet, reports are showing that there are still massive amounts of environmental work and other regulatory issues that have to be done. We're still looking at 5-10 more years before these two extra trains are added.

This is one aspect of the project that bothers me despite the fact that this passenger rail service project proposes to add the two daily round train trips along existing rail right-of-way corridors, both of them active. That's because of the red tape politics at the state and federal level that continue to obstruct transit progress and inflate costs. Add to that the possibility of a NIMBY group that may decide to exploit state law by slapping RCTC with a trivial CEQA suit and cashing in on a settlement paid for by you and I.

I well understand that transit must have efficient regulatory oversight from the feds. For instance, I don't oppose the mandatory late night train testing of Positive Train Control along the San Bernardino Line prior to launch. But do you really think that adding two round trip passenger trains along with modest track improvements along existing right-of-way infrastructure is going to be a major Inland Empire pollutant? You make the call.

Public Hearings Don't Close Here

Now, some good news. One factor I that I do like about our Inland transit agencies is that they are willing to listen to the general public anytime and take action, not just at official public hearings.

The latest example happens to be with RTA and fixing some unproductive routing along a busy commuter express line. At its fall service change, the transit agency  reconfigured the bus routing at a commuter stop in Lake Elsinore which led to circuitous routing. Last month, here's what I had to say about that:

 The southbound (CommuterLink Express Route 206) routing has the line bypassing the park & ride stop, exiting the freeway at the busy SR-74 Central Avenue interchange and backtracking north via Collier Avenue, serving the transit hub first followed by the park & ride. That's because the transit hub point has a bus stop only on one side of the road. Because Route 206 operates through the hub, the backtracking adds about 5-7 minutes of unnecessary travel trip time. That has to be dealt with. 

I went on and suggested that the solution lies with getting bus stops on both sides of Collier and streamlining the Route 206 bus routing through this area. For the record, a regional connector to Riverside (Route 22) and a local bi-directional circulator (Route 8) connect to the 206 at the transit hub. RTA managed to address the root of the problem, but in a different way.

Beginning next Monday, southbound Route 206 runs will exit Interstate 15 at Nichols Road rather than Central Avenue, stopping only at the center's park & ride stop. Southbound trips will not stop directly at the transfer point. Northbound trips will remain unchanged, serving both the transit hub and park & ride.

At the surface, it may appear that the southbound express-to-local connections will be broken. But not so. That's because Route 22 has an outbound stop on Collier at the park & ride's entry driveway. In addition, both the clockwise and counter-clockwise outbound runs of Route 8 also stop at the park & ride's bus stop.

I believe the local complaints from Route 206 riders out of Lake Elsinore led to the change and RTA was completely correct in addressing the routing problem quickly. Regular transit riders know that 5-7 minutes of unproductive backtracking will seam like an eternity aboard the bus. I think that my idea of placing stops on both sides of the Collier and restoring the transit hub stop for southbound runs should be adopted in the near future as RTA plans to phase in all-day service for Route 206 by 2023. However, I find that RTA's short-range solution will work considering that the vast majority of express bus commuters from Lake Elsinore drive and park their cars at the park & ride while ensuring across-the-platform transfers to/from other bus routes are maintained with through-connections.

More evidence that "public hearings" never close here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Benefits versus the Costs of California High Speed Rail

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It is without question that California's high speed rail project is one of the most divisive infrastructure projects around. The Transit Coalition and proponents note the technology has already been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to move high volumes of people between dense regions. That is a fact. On the other front, opponents correctly argue that precious public tax money must not be wasted or overspent. That seams to be the two main thesis points throughout this debate.

Let's look at the technology.

I'll keep this short and sweet. Successful examples of high-speed rail can be found all over Asia and Europe. The real value of HSR is how such projects anchor deep connections between transportation hubs, cultural attractions, cities and jobs.

Concept: Imagine a 1 hour commuter train ride from Murrieta to Irvine...
Note: Concept only. Not officially proposed.
If the California HSR system can reproduce the German style that binds the state together, there will be huge economic and cultural benefits. That is why a rail tunnel between the high desert and Los Angeles would be a desirable transportation corridor. Yes, the geo-technical studies need to be fact-based and impartial but if found feasible, the benefit of directly connecting LA to Palmdale via a 30 minute train ride would be a clear asset. The same can be said for the Irvine-Corona Expressway rail tunnel linking Dos Lagos to Irvine with a 15 minute high speed train ride. How about an LA-to-San Diego train route via the Inland Empire with branches to Las Vegas and Phoenix? Both commuter and inter-city demands for each route would be enormous and should call for private investments.

However, for California HSR, the debate has been centered around public costs, funding and construction deadlines, rather than benefits.

The California High Speed Rail Authority has responded to legislators and members of Congress by releasing a 2013 report showing an estimated cost increase for building the initial segment of HSR. This seems to be a case of the media not understanding the subject and the political opposition sensationalizing. While these numbers are preliminary and still in development, the initial HSR contracts have come in below budget. Some members of the media are taking advantage of all the negative press including editorial positions from the LA News Group of papers and the Press Enterprise.

To be fair, excessive public spending and government waste in general is a serious concern and must not be ignored. Mustering additional public funds from taxes for HSR will be difficult and slow; however the initial voter-approved seed money in the form of bonds in order to initiate the master-plan was a necessary step.

That is why the state needs to allow the private sector to get more actively involved and invest money into the rails and ensure any unnecessary red-tape politics that prevents such investments are reformed. In addition, tax breaks would further incentivize investments. CA HSR has received some interest from the marketplace but much more has to be done. Both the Burbank-to-Palmdale and Dos Lagos-to-Irvine tunnels should have more than enough market demand to call for private sector investments with the latter already found to be feasible but requiring private funds.

Capitalism and competition between service providers drives the market economy and innovation in the United States. Any trivial regulatory rules that obstructs entrepreneurs from improving our inter-city mass transit infrastructure must be reformed. If the state uses the HSR seed money toward a starting segment and gets the remainder of the master plan shovel-ready and cleared, more investors would be inclined to pay for construction.

Yes, there has to be efficient government oversight on the marketplace to ensure safety and to prevent abuse and crony behavior. But I'm pretty sure that several HSR opponents desire a better market economy and would support reforms to statewide regulatory code.

So why can't we find some common ground and allow investors to do the same with moving people from here-to-there quickly via an already proven high speed rail technology?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wildomar Housing Lawsuit: Will the state finally reform CEQA Law?

More evidence that current state environmental law is obstructing environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The good people of the fiscally-broke City of Wildomar are stuck with paying for yet another frivolous environmental lawsuit. This one was over the city's state-mandated Housing Element document where the suing plaintiffs known as Alliance for Intelligent Planning and represented by environmental attorney Raymond Johnson cashed in on a $120,000 settlement even though the most of the environmental legal challenges were found frivolous and rejected in court.

The 2013-2021 Housing Element plan is the city’s policy document guiding the provision of housing to meet future needs for all economic segments of Wildomar, including housing affordable to lower income households.

As I mentioned earlier this week, housing prices all over Southern California have reached a critical high point with rentals and purchase prices in Southwest Riverside County creeping into unaffordable territories for many workers. One of the reasons why this is happening is because both the medical and small business sectors there are growing combined with more and more San Diego workers looking for better and more affordable housing options. The San Diego region also has an expensive housing issue although nowhere near as bad as LA, Orange County, and San Francisco.

Being a part of Southwest Riverside County, Wildomar needs to ensure developers are able to supply the housing infrastructure for the increased demands. Aside from the southeastern shores of Lake Elsinore and its feeding creeks, much of the development would be in-fill or built on flat lands and not directly pollute sensitive ecosystems. And the court agreed. One caveat: Just like the rest of the Inland Empire, Southwest Riverside County needs a growth in better paying jobs to combat long-distance commuting. That would force Orange County and San Diego into a position where they have to allow for infill development or face stagnation. Medical jobs are growing and the City of Murrieta has been proactive in attracting all kinds of small business investments along the Jefferson Avenue/Historic 395 redevelopment corridor. But the region could use more and each worker should be able to afford to live there.

Back to Wildomar's lawsuit settlement.

This is yet another example of a frivolous lawsuit filed in the name of protecting the environment, and trivial cases like this exacerbates our strained justice system paid for by you and I because we pay the salaries of the judge and court staff through our taxes. And then, there's a small group of lawyers like Johnson who take trivial and frivolous environmental cases like this hoping to cash in on a settlement from we the people. The Press Enterprise exposed Johnson's history of this two years ago. By the way, his firm was handed over $250,000 from the Perris Valley Line CEQA lawsuit settlement from the Riverside County Transportation Commission in 2013. Of course, reinstating passenger rail service along an existing rail line clearly poses no ecological threat.

Interestingly enough, Johnson can't be directly blamed for this behaviour because he's found a legal means to make money even though it is morally unacceptable. The fact is broken CEQA law allows for this type of crony capitalism to continue unchecked.

To be fair, most lawyers do not practice this type of frivolous behavior and there needs to be an impartial means to resolve major civil disputes in court through the judicial system. Plus, projects that are indeed suspected pollutants must be held to account in court. The World Logistics Center suit for example should be heard out. If the Mid County Parkway freeway project combined with existing land-use policies are going to blow more smog from LA into the San Jacinto Valley area where there are no air outlets, both the affected cities and the county would need to update their general plans. We all need to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Plus, for the record, Johnson has taken legitimate environmental disputes to court; they're not all bad. But the trivial and frivolous suits must be stopped.

The question is: Why are the special interests still allowed to file environmental lawsuits against projects that pose no threat to the environment and cash in on a settlement? Plus, there should be another layer of protection against frivolous lawsuits altogether: If a judge finds a lawsuit frivolous, he/she should be able to order the suing party to pay for all of the court costs plus the defendant's attorney bill.

The fact that a special interest group two years ago was able to cash in on a $3 million CEQA settlement from the Metrolink Perris Valley Line should be grounds to reform CEQA law. The fact that an Inland Empire city body that is struggling to pay its bills has had to pay $120,000 to an attorney who filed a frivolous environmental suit against a state-mandated housing master plan should automatically prompt the legislature to take action.

Where is the law that protects environmentally-friendly transit infrastructure and housing development projects from trivial and frivolous environmental lawsuits? Where is that law? How many more frivolous CEQA suits do we need before the state takes action?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Solving Southern California's Expensive Housing Crisis

If California wants to reduce vehicle miles traveled, the job-to-housing ratios and home affordability must be addressed through robust market competition.
Why does it cost so much to live near Downtown Los Angeles?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition monitors the housing market simply because when one region becomes too expensive for its workers and their families, many people opt to buy elsewhere and commute in. That obstructs transportation mobility and the 91 freeway corridor between the Inland Empire and Orange County has been a prime example of that for over two decades. In contrast, when both the job-to-housing ratios and housing prices are in balance and violent crime is controlled, people will generally opt to live where they work. Look at the Coachella Valley and the rush hour conditions between there and the Inland Empire to the west. The balance and affordability there helps keep the I-10 corridor moving through the San Gorgonio Pass, even during peak commute times because people can live where they work in the south desert.

State politicians envision a reduction of vehicle miles traveled. But what is the fair way to address this? The short answer is not to over-regulate the private sector. It is to finally solve the state's expensive housing crisis.

Every now and then, I come across news articles that illustrate that an increase in home sales means increased property and land values. Thus, when more people stream into town, that could very well be an indicator of economic growth which is a valid argument. However, there is a very serious problem stemming from rapidly rising home prices in Southern California and the stats are hard proof.

If you've ever searched for ways to balance your family's budget, you know that financial experts suggest that about 30% of household income after taxes should go to housing-related expenses. Some professionals recommend that about 15% should go to transportation, 10% to healthcare, 10% to food, 10% to debt reduction or savings, 5% to utilities, and 20% to other items.

However, the truth is working salaries have generally not kept up with the rising home prices and rents which forces hard working Californians to spend well more than 30% of household income toward housing or commute very long distances which clogs our infrastructure and increases vehicle miles traveled.

Let's look at Irvine, a prime economic job center.

Have a good job in Orange County? Could you afford to live there too?

This master-planned city has a very robust employment hub on its western side dubbed the Irvine Business Complex. Jobs are plentiful and pay very well. For instance, people who are good at balancing financial budgets, organizing accounts, and managing purchase and sales orders (a.k.a. accountants) will find good and honest work in this portion of Orange County. According to the job portal site Indeed, a Senior Accountant salary is around $69,000 per year in Irvine. Sounds like a dream job for many.

Let's suppose a private firm in Irvine hired a guy named Tom to take hold of the company's accounting at the generous $69K salary. Tom is married with a stay-at-home wife and two children. He is the main provider of the house as the wife has to stay with the kids and cannot work. With the child tax credits, about $5,000 is taxed out from Tom's salary per year, leaving the net income around $64,000.

Could he afford to live where he worked by allocating 30% of his salary toward the house payments? Let's go ahead and see...

According to the housing web site Zillow, the median home value in Irvine is a whopping $733,100 with median rent at $3,000. Having a wife and two kids, Tom needs a 3 bedroom house.

A listing on Zillow has a 3-bedroom single family rental unit in the Deerfield subdivision listed for $2,985 per month. The house itself was built in the 1970's and is 1,906 square feet. Keep in mind that Deerfield is a master-planned neighborhood with a giant park that bisects the subdivision with multiple community pools, commons areas, schools, playgrounds, walking trails, and a community center. The vast open space and amenities can neutralize the small living space which would allow the family to move around enjoy the outdoors.

But the question is about affordability. The rent is $35,820 per year. That adds up to 56% of the net household income; almost double of what should be paid. Buying is out of the question. A similar property in Deerfield with four bedrooms at 2,100 square feet is listed at--ready?--$829,999 with an estimated $3,031 mortgage not including property taxes.

No wonder the 91 freeway corridor is so clogged. And its not just Deerfield.

There are traditional-sized tract homes all over Irvine and the surrounding areas selling for well over $1 million. People like Tom cannot afford to live anywhere near the Irvine Business Complex area and his salary is way too high to receive any form of government handouts. To be fair, prices are a little bit better west of Irvine in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. There are some 3 bedroom condo units selling in the 300K's, but the living space is cramped. That's why the Inland Empire underwent urban sprawl for the last two decades which continue to jam the 91, I-15 and other east/west freeways.

Do you super-commute? Wait until you see this...

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the situation is worse. In fact, its housing prices are so bad that it is more affordable for a worker to live in Las Vegas and commute in daily into San Francisco by airplane.  I am not kidding. The Business Insider's numbers tell the truth. You want a new definition of super-commuting and urban sprawl, there it is. Sadly, if nothing is done to resolve the housing affordability crisis, expect these kinds of high prices to seep into the Inland Empire, commutes longer, and transportation networks jammed.

This whole story is beyond belief. The fact that the governments continue to fail to take action on this situation is unbelievable. Southern California has a massive freeway network, yet we still have some of the worst traffic. Every environmental organization that opposes urban sprawl should be demanding the state and local governments to take action.

So, what's being done about it? I've been hearing in the political arena that the government needs to dump more money into this situation through more Section 8 and subsidized housing and increasing the minimum wage. Although I do support safety-net housing in general and believe the minimum wage should be tied to inflation and set a point at around $10/hour that incentivizes mobile people to work instead of receiving welfare, that will not get to the bottom of this situation, period. In fact, The Press Enterprise opined that red-tape regulations mandating developers to set aside property to be sold below market value has made overall housing even less affordable.

I believe politicians and entrepreneurs well know the true answer and we the people must hold the power structure to account into taking action. And every environmental organization should back this.

Concept: Spacious Family-Friendly condo units stacked 20 stories high in a block within the Irvine Business Complex area with plenty of open space commons. Good competition like this all over Southern California could allow buyers to rent or purchase these huge family units for about $1,500 per month.
Note: Concept only. Not officially proposed.
The marketplace needs to be allowed to address the high housing demands, grow the infrastructure via in-fill development, and lower prices and improve quality through competition.

A high school 12th grader can tell you that if demands are high and supplies lacking, prices are going to go up. However, if there is robust competition between developers all around Southern California, the buyers' selection improves. Quality and selections go up including the incentive for entrepreneurs to look into improving manufactured housing technology to further speed up development and lower capital costs. China has already used pre-manufactured panels to erect full-size skyscrapers in mere days that can withstand powerful earthquakes.

The strong competitive market will control and reduce the high prices without government subsidies. A perfect example of such market competition is the robust options to travel in between Vegas and California. With many airlines, bus companies and potentially a private high speed rail firm all competing, travelling between these two points is very affordable. Unfortunately, trivial red tape and broken loopholes in CEQA law obstruct the marketplace from investing in California's heavy demands for better in-fill housing. Smaller-name developers won't come in and compete because the government is tapping into their profit margins with trivial rules and high taxation that chokes up in-fill development.
That's why smart growth development remains generally slow. That's why people like Tom can't afford to live near the Irvine Business Complex employment hub. That's why present-day developers build on cheaper land so that they can at least make some kind of profit from their projects with the all the red-tape bureaucracy.

I must mention that inventory in Irvine and South Orange County is growing. Although nowhere near the rate it should be, the increased supplies have finally started to lower purchase prices with the bargaining power there--long controlled by sellers--now in the buyers court. But prices are still unaffordable for many workers and supplies still short. That means competing in-fill developers and investors need to be better incentivized to grow the inventory, build family-friendly units, better compete, and improve housing options to finally meet demands, just like how market competition has lowered travelling rates and fares between California and Las Vegas.

Tom should have the option to find a quality home or a spacious family-friendly condo unit for $1,500 per month including property taxes under a competitive market with a short 15-20 minute bus ride to-and-from work.

Robust competition will grow buyer's selections which will lower unit prices and rentals. That will allow more workers the freedom to be able to live where they work.

What about land and property values and existing homeowners?

Infill development will not only preserve, but will elevate land values while keeping unit prices in check. That's because if the owners of Orange County's retail shopping centers were to convert their sprawling parking lots into vibrant mixed-use transit villages, the property value would soar. But the individual housing units would be plentiful, affordable, and family friendly.

For existing homeowners in Orange County, especially those who bought high, this is a tough sell. But if the governments work with the lending banks, landlords and residents and offer heavy tax credits and property tax breaks for writing off the price drops and discourage residents from walking away, these entities will more likely back this project. The common goal should be to ensure people can afford to live where they work.

Concept: Smart Growth development in South LA.
Note: Concept only. Not officially proposed.
Here in the Inland Empire, the same patterns must happen too as the logistics and medical sectors drive the regional economy. Plus, more high paying white collar jobs need to find their home here as well. The doctors, nurses, receptionists, truck drivers, manufacturers and procurement workers all need be able to live where they work too and not have to spend more than 30% of their household income toward rent, mortgage or property taxes. Both Corona and Southwest Riverside County where housing prices are on the rise need to look into redeveloping their commercial corridors with additional infrastructure and local jobs. Temecula already has big plans to address this.

If California really wants to reduce vehicle miles traveled on Southern California freeways as we hear from state politicians, our governments should really consider this fair and fact-based proposition.

Who will take charge of it?