Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Freedom from Poverty and Crime in San Bernardino

Revitalizing San Bernardino: If the good people and non-profit sector continue their tireless work of improving the city and rebuilding broken family units, this downtown E-Street retail corridor could become the next Gas Lamp Quarter.

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


During the Memorial Day Weekend, Press Enterprise Staff Columnist Cassie MacDuff ran a report on San Bernardino's fiscal issue and said this:

The statistics rattled off by San Bernardino's bankruptcy experts last week were startling:

San Bernardino is the poorest large city in California, and the second poorest in the nation, after Detroit.

The Parks and Recreation Department offers no youth recreation programs.

The library's public computers are 6 to 8 years old and there’s no money in the budget to replace them (or to buy books, for that matter).

Police and firefighters – whose pensions have been blamed for the city’s insolvency – have salaries lower than their peers in like-sized California cities.

And non-public-safety employees have gone without raises for 10 years.

Any one of those points is cause for concern.

Cities with high poverty and crime rates, like San Bernardino, need recreation programs to keep kids out of trouble.

As for the library, if any city needs a vibrant one, San Bernardino does.

MacDuff went on and described the city's catch-22 situation of needing better infrastructure with the lack of resources to acquire them. A potential solution that was brought up in the article regards to getting up-to-date public computers was for the private sector to turn over used machines to the library. While I'm thankful for the generosity, the good people of San Bernardino shouldn't be stuck with second-rate computers. In this tech age, the youth especially need the latest machines and technology. Also, the piece reported on the issue of the retail sector investing in the Redlands Citrus Plaza area and other places, but not in San Bernardino. Why?

The good people of this great city are certainly hurting economically and many are likely wondering what needs to be done to fix this troubling trend. I am convinced that the public will is present to rebuild the city socially.

One of the primary causes of the city's issues and lack of private investments is social chaos and destructive crime within several of its neighborhoods. Such riff-raff clearly distracts youth from getting the quality education that is necessary for them to acquire high-paying, skilled-based jobs.

That could explain why the city is mired in so much physical poverty. That could be the explanation of why the private sector is not investing in retail infrastructure and expanded jobs such as the downtown Carousel Mall, the now-vacant downtown hotel and convention center property, and The Breeze Way retail pedestrian promenade. Being the primary gateway city into the mountains and deserts from Los Angeles and a historic Route 66 stop, this should be an affluent region. But ask the judges, lawyers and their staff at the San Bernardino Courthouse, the bank manager in the financial block, the IRS auditor in the Vanir Building, the professor at CSUSB, and the doctor at Loma Linda University Medical Center why they don't live and buy where they work. They will likely tell you that it is too dangerous to live or raise a family in San Bernardino. The same can be said for South Los Angeles and Moreno Valley.

While many are indeed in poverty, San Bernardino's residents are not giving up. In fact, they have a wealth of courage. Let me repeat: San Bernardino's good people are wealthy in courage.

They are fighting back through the non-profit sector. They are following a universal, common purpose to get San Bernardino back to its best state. I have seen it firsthand. While I was there last month doing a photo field study of the area, I was stopped by a community planning activist networking with a resident.

We owe a big thanks to the supporters and members of the several groups dedicated toward offering restorative justice programs to those who desire to turn away from crime and mentoring troubled children and youth of whom lack caring parents. Support groups and prison ministry members that mentor and rehabilitate incarcerated inmates of whom desire to turn away from the criminal life should be thanked as well.

The Transit Coalition believes that a root factor of youth-related gang crimes and social problems in the Inland Empire is the deterioration of the traditional family unit. Numerous stats and studies overwhelmingly suggest that children that grow up in abusive or fatherless families are generally less likely to be in their best state as adults than from children that grow up in a traditional and stable family. I know I'm generalizing and there are notable exceptions but rebuilding the family unit must be a priority policy.

I understand that the government is limited in what it can do to combat these social issues because morality generally cannot be legislated. However it can place the issue front and center.

Just like how our transit agencies are obliged to spread awareness about human trafficking, public posters discouraging teenage or out-of-wedlock pregnancy should be posted in each middle and high school campus in the region. Likewise, helplines for youth growing up in troubled families to network with caring mentors should be promoted as well. That way, the kids in distress can turn to positive outreach programs instead of the criminal gang culture for help. Such posters should be present all throughout troubled neighborhoods, especially within the schools.

But San Bernardino's people and the non-profit sector are already showing that uniting for a common purpose and rebuilding the city socially can be done. The city is at a critical point in its 200 year history. A new chapter is about to be written. What is true about San Bernardino can be the same too for Moreno Valley, Riverside's Eastside, and South Los Angeles. The good people simply cannot continue to be overwhelmed by gang violence and continued physical poverty. They must be free from this social slavery once and for all.

When these regions revitalize, unite, and rebuild the family unit, the world is going to witness a new generation of productive, selfless leaders, innovators and heroes from places it least expected.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Freedom to Debate Transit: Remember our Veterans this Memorial Day

Being thankful for the freedom to discuss government transportation policy publicly without fear of arrest...


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



We are all heading into a major holiday weekend that kicks off summer. The driving season kicks off as travelers head to vacation and tourist destinations all over the country. Many schools around the region are wrapping up their spring semesters this time of the year. Families from all over the area will be enjoying the summer barbeques this Monday.

In between the fun and good times, we need to not forget the true meaning of Memorial Day. We must remember those who either have or are currently willing to sacrifice their lives for our nation, the Constitution, and the freedoms that the United States guarantees to each and every one of us.

We live in a free country and we should all owe a sincere thanks to the men and women who died to give us the freedom in which we enjoy every day. Freedoms include the right of you readers and followers to publicly participate in debating transit policy through social networking without fear of retaliation from the government. We have the freedom to disagree or criticize the governing power structure. In many areas of the world, both The Transit Coalition's and your voice simply could not exist. Robust disagreements and debates simply would not be present in the court of public opinion in several countries. But it does exist here. And we should never take that freedom for granted.

Memorial Day is Monday, May 25, 2015. Be sure to spend an hour and attend a Memorial Day service near you with your family. If you cannot attend in-person because of transit mobility or work obligations, catch a televised or recorded service. Afterwards, enjoy the summer barbeque with your family as the rainy weather is expected to clear up in time for the holiday.

Inland Empire Memorial Day 2015 Transit Services



Riverside Transit Agency buses will operate on a Sunday schedule this Monday. Sunline Transit will  run its Saturday/Sunday schedule. Omnitrans, Corona Cruiser, and Pass Transit buses will be off. Metrolink will also be off except for limited service on the Antelope Valley Line.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

More Money-Centric Talk about Toll Lanes

The debate and media coverage over high occupancy toll lanes in the Inland Empire center around the cash once more.

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes through north Lake Elsinore.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC or any public entity.


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



Last Friday, the Press Enterprise brought the Inland Empire high occupancy toll lane debate into the fiscal spotlight once more by running a major story that centers around the dollar.

Want a faster commute? You may get one if you’re willing to spend a little more money.

San Bernardino County is moving ahead with plans for toll lanes, much like those already under construction on Riverside County’s portion of the 91 Freeway in Corona.

Both Inland counties are following the path of Orange County, which has had toll lanes and toll roads for years and whose experience has been bumpy.

The toll lanes mentioned in the article are actually high occupancy toll lanes dubbed as express lanes because they are proposed to be free or discounted for carpools.

Many people object to putting express lanes on Southland freeways because the notion of paying more for faster travel has taken center stage in the debate. But I don't object to HOT lanes in general.

Benefits of HOT Lanes:

The Transit Coalition generally supports congestion pricing and high occupancy vehicle infrastructure. That is simply because the dual HOV express lanes along Southland freeways can provide a virtual dedicated transitway for express transit buses, private sector coaches, motorcycles and other private high occupancy vehicles. If there's open capacity, non-carpools can buy their way in for a toll. Many motorists have long demonstrated that they are willing to tax themselves into a faster-moving HOV lane if they need to be somewhere quickly during the rush hour.

Designing a HOT lane system where transit buses can seamlessly access transit centers, stations and major activity centers away from the highway itself can provide a pathway toward productive and funded rapid express service with an early morning to late night service span in addition to expanded limited stop commuter express lines.

Look no further than San Diego County's I-15 Express Lanes Rapid One Sweet Ride and LA's Metro Silver Line and Silver Streak Rapid Express services along the I-10 El Monte Busway. The stations need to be away from the actual freeway as median, shoulder, and interchange stations have proven to be a cold and uninviting experience.

Other benefits of the high occupancy lanes are:
  • Provides motorists an incentive to travel aboard transit or an HOV.
  • Occupancy requirements and non-HOV toll rates can be managed to guarantee travel speeds of at least 45-50 MPH during rush hour.
  • Increases the number of people (not just vehicles) traveling through a corridor. A freeway-speed lane can carry up to 1,500-2,000 vehicles per hour. Dual HOV/HOT lanes can carry up to 3,000-4,000 HOV's per hour, adding up to a peak-capacity of at least 6,000-8,000 people per hour under a 2+ usage policy and 9,000-12,000 people under a 3+ system.
  • Toll-free, non-transponder travel for HOV's promotes ridesharing.
  • Tolling non-HOV's and granting them access can prevent the lanes from being under-utilized or having the "empty lane syndrome" while the toll prevents SOV's from over-saturating or clogging the infrastructure.
The San Bernardino Associated Governments' plan to consider building the express lanes along the I-15 and I-10 freeway corridors would mostly be capacity improvement and not involve the conversion of any existing general purpose lane but would include the conversion of the existing 2+ carpool lane between Ontario and Montclair. That is why the HOT lanes need to support free non-transponder carpooling so that existing HOV's can continue to use the lanes seamlessly without needing to pre-register for a FasTrak account.

Opposing Views
State Transportation Funding: Agencies must acknowledge that transportation revenues are up, not in decline. The state must be held to account to stop displacing funds elsewhere. HOT lane opponents are not wrong with this point.
Graphic: CA Board of Equalization

However, I do want to hear out what the opposing party has to say because valid points like long-term debt, stopping transportation funding displacement at the state and federal level, and ensuring low-income motorists have efficient travel options too are dealt with.

But the media coverage of all this basically was centered around the dollar and not really about moving people. Very little was said about the benefits of multi-modal mobility while more emphasis was placed on funding.

San Diego County's I-15 Express Lanes is a major success story in regards to transit and HOV mobility. 2-person or more carpools travel toll-free without needing to mount a FasTrak and robust HOV and rapid transit services allow people of all incomes to enjoy an efficient ride up and down the corridor--no mentioning of that in the report.

The "Toll Free IE" Facebook page that smeared SANBAG got even more exposure as former candidate for the Fontana City Council Tressy Capps stated, "We are taxed to death in this state...They want to really make it expensive for the average American to drive."

To be fair, Capps is correct that Californian's are taxed heavily and the state government must be held to account of our transportation tax money. She also went on and mentioned the debt issue; both the state and federal government need to ensure fuel tax money is paying for these transit upgrades and not being displaced to other interests. But that is no excuse to continue the smear tactics against SANBAG if the governing board wants to expand the HOV infrastructure.


Yes, SANBAG's resume is far from perfect and constructive criticism of its actions are warranted.

Here's what I said about the de-funding of train trips from the Metrolink San Bernardino Line that occurred last summer:

It was clearly wrong for San Bernardino County to simply refuse to pay its bill and put the Metrolink San Bernardino Line in its fiscal jam. SCRRA member agencies have a responsibility to their taxpaying constituents to ensure that train service is available to keep their transportation
networks flowing. If there's a disagreement or dispute, elected board members need to debate it and agree to form fact-based solutions that won't unfairly tear apart the system. Elected officials should also not accept any excuses.

Think about it: The citizens of Los Angeles County who paid their bill in full and commute into San Bernardino aboard the affected routes will be unfairly negated by this madness. That's where we need to demand leadership from elected officials.



If there's a legit issue, both We the People and the media need to expose it and back it up with facts. That's what makes up the Transit Coalition's campaigns. But pointless sears like labeling the regional transportation agency the "SANBAG Secret Society" is not going to get Southern California moving. That only waters down her loud voice and causes members of the SANBAG board to not listen to her views at all. That is unfortunate because the smear attacks would distract the governing board from hearing out the valid claims.

As I've pointed previously, Capps has gotten herself in trouble before for presenting legit issues like international flag etiquette improperly.

Capps and other toll lane opponents are always welcome to post comments through this blog and join in the debate about toll lanes. My rule for her and everybody else posting comments is no personal attacks or smear tactics. But I always welcome a good debate because many people bring up good supporting points even though I may disagree with their final positions.

As for the media coverage, both the Press Enterprise and the San Bernardino Sun know that the Transit Coalition exists as there are reporters and columnists that follow this blog. Both outlets should check out the Coalition's views on high occupancy toll lanes. We need to get its benefits of moving the high volumes of people into the press so that the toll lane debate can remain fair and impartial.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mid County Parkway Lawsuit Madness

More environmental questions are raised as RCTC gets hit with another CEQA suit.

Mid County Parkway Preferred Alternative
Graphic - RCTC

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



Some big-name environmental activist groups including the Sierra Club have filed a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit against the Riverside County Transportation Commission in an effort to obstruct the development of a six-lane highway infrastructure project between the I-215 and the Hemet/San Jacinto region.

The Mid-County Parkway can be defined as a high speed limited access freeway and is basically an expressway-to-freeway upgrade of the existing four lane Ramona Expressway corridor between Lake Perris and northwest San Jacinto as defined in the Caltrans Highway Design Manual. The segment between I-215 and Lake Perris is proposed to be a new right-of-way which would require major property acquisition in the area of Placentia Avenue.

Fact-based Viewpoints

My analysis of the Mid County Parkway project is going to be different than what the suing activist groups are arguing. The Transit Coalition is not here to obstruct projects over ideological matters. We are a fact-based group that does not pander to any ideological or political agenda. If there is a solid, fact-based concern backed up by hard evidence, those points need to be heard and considered in the debate and officials must not stonewall them.

One of the reasons why decision making politicians, the media, government staff, and other top individuals follow The Transit Coalition is because we provide an independent and fair analysis on transportation-related matters. We don't jump on the bandwagon of fear-tactics or political ideology. People respect us because we are not affiliated with any public or private entity or political party. We look for the best in you and your free mobility by promoting fair and non-divisive solutions to problems.

That's why we don't take too many hard "Yes" or "No" positions on proposals. I try to provide a fair and unifying solution.

With that said, let's get back to the Parkway.

A Straight-Analysis of the Mid County Parkway and the Environment

Burrowing Owl 4212
The burrowing owl, regional growth, and transit mobility can coexist.
© Wikimedia/Dori CC BY-SA
While I'm not a fan of this project, I really don't think that widening the Ramona Expressway by one lane and grade separating the intersections would cause grave damage to the surrounding wildlife corridors in of itself simply because the vast majority of the project would run along an existing transportation corridor.

I don't think the Least Bell’s vireo, the burrowing owl and Los Angeles pocket mouse will become endangered or extinct if the project stayed within the existing transportation corridor or already developed areas. Nor do I believe that ecosystems would be gravely damaged.

However, I am concerned that the good people within the San Jacinto and Hemet Valley region may get a dose of dirtier air if both the highway and bad land use policies contribute further to our serious problem of long distance commuting.

This lawsuit could bring in the hard facts to confirm whether or not the valley's smog levels will increase with the presence of a freeway relative to current general plan zoning rules.

AirNow Air Quality Index Map dated 8/9/14
With the San Jacinto Mountains to the east, this valley has no outlet for the on-shore flow and any additional pollution that flows in from the highway will get blown in and remain in the region which could result in dirtier air during the afternoon and evening periods during the summer months. Yes, cars are becoming cleaner each year, but we have no solid promise that zero-emissions cars will be the norm by the time the Parkway is finished and opened.

That means the suing party should put this issue front and center during their case so we can get solid data and facts into this debate and see whether or not this legit concern holds water.

If so, the plaintiff needs to hold the deciding jurisdictions to account if RCTC builds the highway. That is what environmental law is supposed to do. We need to be able to breathe clean air.

If the increased smog levels can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and if the cities and County of Riverside want the Mid County Parkway project to continue, they would need to commit to finally zone the region which balances the job-to-housing ratio and encourages business investments here at home. That solution would offset increased pollution relative to the Parkway because more people would work in their home cities and long distance commuting would be reduced, not increased.

More on that in a moment...

Property Acquisition

Also, the residential property acquisition issue between the I-215 and Lake Perris may be fairly legit too even though it may have nothing to do with the environment.

I think this proposed segment should have continued to follow the existing Ramona Expressway right-of-way since this portion is already a six-lane expressway to minimize residential displacement; however the decision has been made to route this segment near Placentia Avenue where there is existing development. Comparing this issue to CEQA, because Placentia Avenue is already partially developed, I don't foresee any harm to any sensitive ecosystems for this alignment either. However, I think the residential displacement remains a valid concern and Perris officials should hear out and reflect their people's views in this area.

Regarding infrastructure costs: Is the region ready for a massive $1.7 billion project or can the master-plan be phased in as the regions and local economy grows? The opposition correctly pointed that $1.7 billion is a lot of money and there are several other transit corridors that warrant priority funding.

As suggested by the opposing parties, would it be better to start with a third lane along the Ramona Expressway, fund a direct RTA CommuterLink transit line between Hemet and Corona, develop a center divider, and keep the intersections at grade much like the SR-79 corridor as a first step?

Could the grade separations, bicycle pathways, future carpool lane and park & ride facilities be integrated into the corridor at a future time when industries and jobs do expand in San Jacinto with the increased local transportation revenues?

Regarding the freeway with urban sprawl argument--which may be another legit supporting point from the opposition--RCTC has very little control over land use other than providing the transportation infrastructure.

Yes, highway expansion does stimulate development activity. But our long history of broken job-to-housing ratios and bad social conditions in many Los Angeles neighborhoods also contributes to urban sprawl and long distance commuting.

RCTC should not have to bear responsibility of what development goes where through a CEQA lawsuit. The local jurisdictions are the ones that need to be held accountable and each of them should plan accordingly so that development caused by transportation infrastructure expansion does not go unchecked. Furthermore, the public should absolutely not tolerate any home developer pandering. You may remember from last decade, the City of Murrieta pandered to home developers and voters reacted by recalling members of the City Council. The City now has become a very business-friendly area with small business investments and job growth taking place on its western side.

Managing Growth and Controlling Smog along the Mid County Parkway and Cajalco Road Corridors

Coalition Concept: Managed growth along the Mid County Parkway corridor
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC or any other public or private entity.

The County of Riverside, Perris, Hemet and San Jacinto should all work together, integrate their general plans with the Mid County Parkway project so that the job-to-housing ratio in this area can be balanced. That needs to happen so that we don't end up with loads of bedroom communities along the central and the eastern end of the Mid County Parkway with the majority of jobs to the west--That would for sure exacerbate traffic congestion on the I-215 and potentially lead to more pollution on the eastern end of the corridor. The local jurisdictions need to be held accountable on this matter, not RCTC.

Concept: Open space growth design near Mid County Parkway
Note: Not endorsed by any public or private entity.
A sustainable land use policy that would prevent the San Jacinto Valley from being mired with dirtier air and increased congestion on I-215 is for the cities and county to zone the land to improve the existing housing infrastructure and social conditions in north and central Perris areas while expanding the job market and improving college and university infrastructure in the west Moreno Valley and San Jacinto/Hemet Valley regions. That would prevent the highway from exacerbating the region's unbalanced job-to-housing ratio, reduce long distance commuting and traffic congestion, and thus cut down on smog being blown east into San Jacinto.

The suing party has a golden opportunity here to deal with this situation.


Another Transportation Lawsuit Begins...

Meanwhile as this case unfolds, there will be quite a bit of trivial discussions taking place in the court of law soon in the name of the environment. The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and Friends of Riverside’s Hills want the $1.7 billion Mid County Parkway project halted and are using CEQA as a means to get its case through the court of law. And you and I are basically the ones paying for this case. I hope the points that I brought up here are presented.

More often than not, these suits and their settlements can lead to big cash sums going to the lawyer lobby and special interests. The 2013 Perris Valley Line lawsuit settlement was a clear example of that although to be fair, some of the settlement money went to legit purposes that benefits the public at large.

Moving forward, we need to find a common ground on this issue. The good people of San Jacinto and Hemet must have cleaner air. The beautiful hillside and Lake Perris ecosystems must be protected. Land use plans must not exacerbate the long distance commuting problem here at home. Residential displacement needs to be minimized. San Jacinto and Hemet are long overdue for an improved economy, job market, and better social conditions. The existing Ramona Expressway corridor and right-of-way needs to offer efficient, multi-modal transit mobility options as the region grows without breaking the bank.

This must all be resolved and settled soon with We the People--not the lawyer or special interest lobby--being the primary beneficiaries.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Inland Empire Transit Briefing - The CA Gas Price gap, Field Studies and more...


Field Study: Passing through Gilman Hot Springs area and checking out the new road safety features...

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



This post is going to brief as I'm on the run this week.

I was passing through the downtown districts of Hemet, San Jacinto, Beaumont and Banning earlier today on a field study and noted some observations that I'll run down in detail in a future post. I also had the opportunity to check out the recent safety upgrades through Gilman Hot Springs. I recall passing through this town north of San Jacinto a few years back and drivers have historically sped through this area not observing the 45 MPH posted speed limit. One noticeable feature are the new "YOUR SPEED" digital speed radars that display the driver's speed and flash "SLOW DOWN" when it detects excessive speeds. For the record, as evidenced in the picture above, I was clocked at 42.

The Riverside County Transportation Department (not to be confused with RCTC) is spearheading this project.

One other observation that I noticed is that the Pass Transit bus system in the Beaumont and Banning regions appears to be functioning a lot better than a few years ago. I did not have a chance to actually get on the bus, but I noted that the small buses look simple and attractive and use the Pass Transit branding. Plus, the main trunk routes recently underwent long-overdue streamlining.

The Pass region is very transit dependent and I'll be exploring how inter-regional connections can be improved.


The Growing California Gas Price Gap

The other major story that's unfolding is that gas prices nationally are either holding flat or slightly dropping. However, prices here at home continue to climb although the increase rate began to finally slow down about 11 days ago. These two 5/11/2015 snapshots from GasBuddy.Com illustrate what's going on:






According to the snapshots, the average price of fuel in many states and regions add up to about $2.30-2.40 per gallon. I'll round it up to $2.40. The national average is $2.64. Riverside County's average totaled $3.79.

That adds up to us paying $1.15 more per gallon than the national average and a whopping $1.39 more than the average of some states and metropolitan areas. And the reported trend shows that this gap is still increasing. This due to the state's failure to act on the sudden rise in prices caused by regulations that isolates California's fuel market from the rest of the nation. Because there are ongoing in-state refinery problems operated only by a few major oil firms, supplies remain legally short even though domestic oil supplies are through the roof.

Meanwhile, these oil companies are making bank off of the backs of hardworking Californians no thanks to this ongoing oligopoly.

State officials certainly cannot allow this gap to grow much farther. If this price gap continues to grow, state officials are going to have to act even if that meant suspending the special blend rule until the refineries are fully back online and supplies are back to normal.

The state government has an obligation to regulate oligopolies like this that affects each and every one of us. The failure to act would be a direct dereliction of duty.

I appreciate you all following this blog and I'll talk to you again soon.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Keeping Inland Empire Housing Affordable

Workers should be able to live in a quality, family-friendly home in LA, Orange County and San Diego too.

Suburban tract house
Can a family-friendly spacious housing unit like this be integrated into future urban housing plans in dense job hubs?
© Wikimedia Commons/BrendelSignature CC-BY-SA

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


I'm keeping a close watch on housing prices throughout the region which includes both purchase prices and rentals.

The local job market has been seeing improvements which in turn drives up demand for a place to call home in our region. With that, property values and housing costs are continuing to go up.

While land and property values do increase whenever the economy and job markets are healthy, I must also point that rising housing unit costs and rentals cannot be allowed to spiral out of control to the point where hard-working families and full-time entry-level employees are priced out and have to relocate miles away from work. That is already evident in parts of LA County, Orange County, San Diego County, and San Francisco.

That drives up demands for development in undeveloped regions and promotes long distance commuting (a.k.a. urban sprawl).

The truth is Southern Califorina has seen this pattern for way too long and we must not allow it to continue.

You may recall that as jobs grew in Los Angeles after World War II combined with the invention of the private automobile, bad social conditions in many neighborhoods like South LA drove up demands for people to relocate to new communities within the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County. Workers would live in spacious homes and drive in daily into the urban core.

Soaring demands for a better quality of life away from LA's social riff-raff basically turned the endless fields of citrus groves into sprawling bedroom communities. To this day, South LA remains off the list for many homebuyers because of the ongoing bad social conditions and gang crime, but to be fair, the good people of LA have not given up. They are working extremely hard to take their city back from the criminal gang culture, rebuilding broken family units and offering various restorative justice programs. Combined with strong law enforcement, the region has been seeing signs of improvement. One local high school has adopted a restorative justice program as a means of student discipline. South Central LA needs a unified voice and with continued efforts, it will become a desirable place to live.

Meanwhile during the 90's and 2000's, the job market in Orange County soared. OC therefore ceased to be a bedroom community with urban job hubs in Irvine, South Coast Metro, and several other regions.

Likewise, the job market in West LA went up. Because quality housing supplies generally failed to keep up with the soaring demands as more workers streamed into these regions, prices which included rentals went through the roof. Prices in less-desirable places like South LA remained affordable.

Because desirable places to live became expensive, people then looked into the Inland Empire. During late 90's and early 2000's more bedroom communities materialized. That is, more urban sprawl.

Now, Inland housing prices are on the rise as the logistics, goods movement, manufacturing and medical sectors develop hubs in the region. There is no question we need the jobs. Bring them in. But the cities must prepare for an increased demand in local housing from local workers. If the housing price rise is left unchecked, that will drive up development demands beyond the outer fringes of the Inland Empire, possibly beyond the borders of the Coachella and Victor Valley regions.

We cannot allow this pattern to continue.

Coalition Concept: Smart growth concepts for San Bernardino
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by any public entity or developer.
To be fair, there is very little that can be done about the actual land and property values. If a region has a balanced job-to-housing ratio with high-paying jobs, expect high property values.  However that does not mean that housing unit prices like rentals or a spacious 3,000 square foot unit in a condo tower need to be out of control or unaffordable. $2,000 per month plus utilities for a one bedroom unit or $600,000 for a 3-5 bedroom house would be out of the ballpark for many workers.

Across the Santa Ana Mountains, you know OC prices are unaffordable to many workers. I've already pointed out that this must change.

A family whose breadwinner works in the Irvine Business Complex should have the option to purchase a spacious 3-5 bedroom 3,000 square foot condo unit with plenty of living space in a condo tower complex complete with a large community commons area within the job hub for about $300,000 with a monthly payment of about $2,000. The condo complex land property value would be worth millions, but the stacked units would be affordable and family-friendly.

Infill Urban Housing: Bunker Hill Towers in Downtown Los Angeles with a huge private community commons and pool area.
Increased supplies and better competition can make renting and purchasing such units more affordable for downtown workers.
Good competition between developers would keep these unit prices affordable. Developers would make bank because spacious 3-5 bedroom units worth $300,000 each can be stacked in a single 20-30 story residential tower at dense job hubs like the Irvine Business Complex area. Four units per floor would equate to 80 units in a 20-story building and 120 units for a 30-story tower. In the surrounding suburbs, the lighter-weight areas can support 3-5 story structures near existing retail centers with up to 20 spacious units per building. Each residential building would occupy just under an acre of land.

Local governments in the Inland Empire need to be prepared for this growth so their residents can continue to afford to live here.

In a future set of posts, I'll compile how these 3,000 square foot family-friendly units can be integrated into in-fill development plans along existing commercial and retail corridors. Smart growth critics are correct that we should not be crammed into Cracker Jack box-sized living quarters whenever growth demands go up. Nor should regions be over-densified. That's why there needs to be better smart growth competition among developers.

Plus, housing developers need to be held accountable to help fund or construct transportation infrastructure between the new units and existing job hubs. That would include expediting bus transit improvements such as implementing Bravo! BRT through the Irvine Business Complex area, implementing track improvements for frequent Metrolink service, and funding the I-15 Express Lanes master plan between the High Desert and San Diego County.

With the soaring demands for Orange County housing these days, I would think this would be a developer's dream to expand supply and competition to improve selection and lower prices. Local governments need to streamline the regulatory process to make this possible. But now, we have a similar price situation potentially brewing here in the Inland Empire.

I will say that the City of Temecula is experiencing this, but the city is actively exploring expanding urban housing options along a commercial corridor west of the I-15 freeway. That should help keep local prices under some control, but the other Inland Empire cities need to get on board as well so that competition for quality housing increases which would help balance the job-to-housing ratio and end this troubling pattern of urban sprawl.

Let's keep living in the Inland Empire affordable.