Friday, July 31, 2015

Government Accountability with Riverside County Transportation

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Last week, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at its July 21st meeting to authorize county staff to work with other government agencies that want to live stream and/or video record their public meetings held at the Riverside County Administrative Center. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors meetings which are held there are currently broadcasted live online and through cable television with the recordings archived online for future public viewing. This move would allow such streaming and recording to be expanded to other entities using the county facility for their public meetings. The regional transportation governing bodies that currently use the meeting facility include the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Riverside Transit Agency.

County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries sponsored the initiative which could open the door to better government accountability and public transparency. To be clear, participation by RCTC, RTA and other public entities using the meeting room would be optional. Those entities would opt-in. The County would pay for the streaming access as part of the operating costs for meetings. The individual government agencies would pay for and handle the modification of their websites to include links to the recorded video.

If all said and done, this would be a great asset for the public and holding local politicians accountable.

Already, we can petition government officials and agency staff through email and online contact forms. Some decision makers also follow The Transit Coalition and take note of blog posts, campaigns, Coalition meetings in Los Angeles, and conversations on the social networking pages.

But if our transportation entities opted into this feature, anybody wanting to view such meetings live could tune in from their homes or offices, or they could watch the broadcast later through the agency's website without having to first contact the clerk.

Just like the County Board of Supervisors meetings, the public could be able to watch countywide transportation meetings in their full context and not have to be physically present. People can engage in official public hearings like highway and toll lane proposals and short range transit plans remotely by using email to submit their comments straight to the decision makers beforehand and watch anytime and anywhere of how the power structure reacts during the hearing itself.

People whose work or school schedules conflict with meeting times would be able to watch these meetings in their full context at later times. They won't be totally reliant on media reportage nor have to purchase audio recordings through the clerk in order to watch or listen to unedited meeting coverage. Plus, those who do take the time to attend the meetings and speak during the public comments or hearing sections will certainly have their voices heard better from the general public.

With this technology and streamlined availability of videos, We the People can see directly whether or not our local elected representatives who are serving on the RCTC and RTA boards are taking action on our petitions, suggestions or requests. They will be held to greater account because their actions and votes can be watched at anytime and anywhere from anyone via the Internet.

RCTC, RTA and other bodies using this meeting room space should jump aboard and opt-in.

I believe the start-up costs for RCTC, RTA and the other governing bodies would be very inexpensive. Since the County of Riverside would be handling the operating costs for the multi-media features and the hosting of the videos, simply posting links to the videos on the agency websites under the meeting section through a routine update could only involve a simple phone call to the agencies' webmasters pending board approval.

So I do hope that RTA and RCTC adopt this initiative.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Transforming Dangerous Neighborhoods into Livable Communities

How can we save thousands of lives from violent gang crime?

Livable or not? A four-unit apartment building over retail in the Jefferson Park area of South Los Angeles. Windows are covered with bars, the roof is protected by barbed wires and fences. How can this urban blight be transformed for the better?
© Wikimedia/OmarOmar CC-BY-SA

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

As a means to get Southern California moving, The Transit Coalition has been active in exploring ways to better balance the job-to-housing ratio which in turn would reduce demands for long distance commuting. Such super-commutes contribute heavily to Southern California's bad traffic congestion on the highways.

On top of improving multi-modal transportation options to get from here to there which includes our Metrolink MAX project, expanding quality housing options and supplies closer to work would greatly reduce a family's breadwinner of needing to commute 50+ miles each way to-and-from work. Plus, increased housing supplies and robust competition will keep purchase prices and rentals affordable without subsidies. The Transit Coalition is at the forefront of promoting responsible growth that is in tune with demographic changes and the desires of citizens. There is no question that better residential infrastructure growth and supplies are needed at Southern California's major employment hubs and densely populated regions.

Enter in Southern California's impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods:

Many people call these places the ghetto. Just about all of us well know that there are specific areas all over Southern California that have constant illegal street gang problems which are evidenced by violent crime, criminal acts with firearms, illegal drug sales, human trafficking, vandalism, dilapidated infrastructure and buildings, closed businesses, run-down housing and abandoned cars. Such urban blight has long obstructed quality of life for the good people living in these areas. Innocent people continue to be victims or even killed. San Bernardino is no exception.

Such residents are basically forced to fortify their homes with security bars and barricaded front yards as means to counter violent intrusions from criminal gangs. Plus such riff-raff has impeded private investments from improving housing quality and creating jobs.

That's simply because the doctor working in the Loma Linda University Medical Center, the IRS auditor working in the Vanir Building, or the staff at the San Bernardino Courthouse likely won't choose to live in San Bernardino. Raising a family in such chaotic environments is simply not an option for many.

The economic and social conditions have been depressing and has been going on far too long. Where is the urgency to repair this problem from the government?

Maybe this recent Los Angeles Times article will draw some long overdue action from the power structure.

The LA Times ran a story on July 22 of San Bernardino’s Country Inn motel. The report shows that this run-down lodging facility is near a sidewalk where merchants illegally sell meth. Top that with men scanning the motel property for prostitutes. Add to that a report where an emaciated woman was furiously pacing the upper deck unclothed. The worst part of all of this is homeless innocent children live there, exposed to all of this disgrace. How can kids who grow up in such chaos attain their best states at adulthood? They likely won't unless unified action takes place.

As many other Inland Empire children enjoy the summer fun as they grow up in stable homes, that's where several of San Bernardino's children reside, in a filthy, despaired, drug-infested motel. The paper did report that the motel manager, Sam Maharaj, is a decent, caring man looking out after the children.

In fact, the good people living in San Bernardino and beyond are working very hard and trying extensively to fight back against the violent crime and murders. These caring people have had enough of having their hometown labeled the ghetto and are doing something about it. That is clearly evident with all of the activity from the non-profit sector, grassroots and religious groups. There are many good citizens of this great city taking the time to spread awareness and working to revitalize it. The Route 66 Rendezvous car show for example made a comeback to the city. The Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy continues to do fine work for the youth by networking them with jobs in the growing logistics sector. Bank of America donated $4,000 to San Bernardino Symphony that will benefit youth programs.

In addition, transportation and mass transit infrastructure continues to grow with the soon-to-be grand San Bernardino Transit Center and Metrolink First Mile extension. Major transit-oriented development is envisioned along the sbX Green Line route and near the transit center now under construction.

But the governing body overseeing San Bernardino as well as other troubled parts of Southern California must join in the fight against the crime with one unified voice.

In order to save San Bernardino and every other neighborhood plagued by street crime and gang homicides, two government solutions must be put front and center. They are maximizing law enforcement and expanding restorative social justice programs through the non-profit sector which includes strengthening and rebuilding the family unit.

I. Gang Intervention & Suppression from Law Enforcement - Short-Range Solution

The truth may hurt. However, the governing body directly responsible of protecting citizens from violent criminal activity is the men and women in law enforcement. Expanding the forces for maximum gang intervention and suppression is the short-range solution to better control the violence and the killing of lives. The Justice Department published a bulletin on this topic in 2010. Some will argue that the solution lies with restorative justice programs, not more incarceration. I'll touch base on the restorative programs in a moment.

I also well understand that there are a few questionable members within the law enforcement ranks. That is clearly demonstrated with the recent news stories with shootings and race; they each individually must be held to account impartially. But we need to all acknowledge that law enforcement as a whole which includes the vast majority of its members is not the problem. The police is not the enemy. It is their job to protect us from violent street crime and homicides by taking all violent offenders who are committing these felonies and murders off of the streets, regardless of their skin color. The actual crime must be confronted no matter who is committing it.

To be clear, local police resources can be very limited, especially for San Bernardino as it deals with its bankruptcy. California's jails and prisons are already crowded. The extra cops are not going to magically appear. But here are some means that can help fiscally broke cities strengthen their resources with minimal additional funding: Expanding the unpaid volunteer, explorer, community action patrol and reserve ranks.

That will not only make the police ranks stronger, but provide a means for youth and young adults thinking about careers in law enforcement to give it a hands-on try. The governments would pay for their training and equipment. Every volunteer applicant passing the minimum requirements and background checks would be given something to do. The unpaid support arms of the department can be assigned to handle the smaller issues like patrols, traffic and parking enforcement or provide support help for investigations while the paid officers can deal with the complicated and serious cases like criminal gangs. Plus, they would be offered internal career opportunities based on performance.

Law enforcement agencies would identify street gang areas or any other dangerous zone and designate such blocks as safety zones. That would include the block of the Country Inn motel evidenced by the drug sales,  prostitution and potential human trafficking. Gang migration would also be closely watched. Those areas would have consistent patrolling until the gang and drug dealers go out of business. Strong enforcement would deter illegal drug sales and violent crime which are primary funding sources for criminal groups. If, after all of this, for whatever reason, the local law enforcement agency is still overcome by violent criminal activity, both the state's law enforcement personnel and the National Guard would be called in to assist. The kids and other innocents must be protected as these disgraceful acts must be stopped.

Regarding incarceration itself, it's a fact that California's jails and prisons are crowded and are outlets for gang and criminal activity too. That has to be dealt with too. I do agree that alternatives for one-stop mass incarceration need to be debated. This is a topic that requires honest and fact-based debate that promises to rehabilitate prisoners instead of simply warehousing them while ensuring law abiding citizens are protected. Being a transit advocate, I'll leave it up to the experts to solve this problem. But I do think mandatory sentencing for serious violent crimes is justifiable as a crime deterrent.

To protect society, convicted criminals should serve out their mandatory sentences but they could also be locked up into facilities that would also help rehabilitate them depending on their case. Reports also show that a number of convicts serving in the penal system are in for petty drug crimes. To be fair, I don't think it's justified to criminalize simple drug possession. However, I do believe it should remain a criminal act to illegally sell or transfer hard drugs, especially to minors.

In addition, Congress is now debating a potential federal bill that would make it harder for criminal felons who are not USA citizens to even be in the county. The proposed law would make it a federal crime for any foreign criminal felon who is deported and returns illegally. Reports show that a number of criminal street gang leaders with prior felony convictions who are committing terrible crimes in Southern California are not even USA citizens. If that's the case, that's foreign invasion and the U.S. Constitution mandates that this be dealt with. The new law should allow and mandate local law enforcement to pick them up and turn foreign criminals over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing. To be clear, this law would only apply to criminal foreign felons, not the good people who are trying to seek refuge in the United States from the corrupt governments and criminal cartels south of the border. But I predict that if such a well-written bill becomes federal law, this will greatly help slow down criminal gang activity and make these neighborhoods safer.

II. Gang Prevention, Restorative Justice, Strengthening the Family - Long-Range Solution

As I mentioned, criminal gang suppression through law enforcement is only a short-range solution to a more complicated problem.

Longer range solutions to prevent the kids from joining the gangs call for moral transformation of neighborhoods affected by crime. This includes victims and the incarcerated of whom seek to truly turn away from the criminal culture. Children and teenagers from chaotic family environments including those residing at the Country Inn motel need positive role models and mentors.

Positive and safe places where youth can hang out, more jobs, and more educational and recreational opportunities provide the seeds for long-range safe and healthy communities. Prison ministries and outreach programs from the non-profit sector can provide restorative help, skills and positive self-building to recovering inmates as they serve their time. Local governments must allow the non-profit and religious organizations to expand such outreach programs that prevents youth from joining the criminal gang culture.

Programs that promote pro-family values and honoring righteous authority must be offered and taught to children and youth. Healthy entertainment needs to be available for the youth provided by the private sector. The kids need healthy places to be socially accepted. Mentors need to be there for each child and teenager growing up in abusive family environments. I've already pitched an idea of a youth center hub for San Bernardino's Carousel Mall. President Obama's My Brother's Keeper program needs to be promoted better at the local level and wealthy businesses need to be better invited to participate in this initiative. I understand that family rebuilding cannot be legislated but the governments can promote it through public messages just like how our transit agencies are required to spread awareness and helplines on human trafficking.

One fact that absolutely cannot be overlooked is that a primary source of youth-related crimes is the lack of the stable family. The evidence is overwhelming. Professionals in this field have yielded alarming facts. There is positively no question that children who grow up in homes without caring parents, especially from the father, generally have a much greater risk of encountering serious problems as teenagers and adults since they grow up without discipline and motivation in their homes. I know I'm generalizing and there are notable exceptions. Also, the expansion of youth mentor options can offset the negative effects of bad parenting. But firm public messages of rebuilding the family unit must be a prime long-range solution to this grave problem.

Our communities, public transit fleets and the people who use them deserve to be in a robust state, not mired in crime or vandalism. What good are all the buses and the trains in the world when the communities they serve are blighted in a culture of preventable youth-related crimes, drug abuse, and gang violence?

South LA before transformation...
Taking a lead on transforming blighted areas

It is long past time for unified action on this grave situation that has not only plagued San Bernardino, but continues to mire Moreno Valley, parts of Riverside, neighborhoods in San Diego, South Los Angeles, several cities in the Bay Area and has badly damaged Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore. Why are the governments continuing to stand by and not taking unified action while the criminal violence and homicides continue? How many more people have to die before the governments step in too and do something?

When unified action finally does take place, thousands of lives can be saved, dangerous communities transformed, drug abuse gone, and families rebuilt. That will make living in the inner city neighborhoods desirable once again which will further improve quality of life. When this lead is finally taken and transformation takes place, blighted neighborhoods can one day look like this:

Concept--South LA After Transformation: The streets of South Central can be free from criminal gang violence once and for all, safe for families. Job hubs are a short 20 minute train or bus ride away via Metro Rail, Metro Rapid, or Metro Local.
Note: Concept only. Not officially proposed or endorsed by Los Angeles or LA Metro.

Concept--Revitalizing San Bernardino: Stopping gang crime and incentivizing the market to renovate blighted neighborhoods.
Note: Concepts only. Not official proposals.
Map OpenStreetMap contributors. Tiles courtesy of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Housing Photos (C) Wikimedia Commons/Dolovis, Alex Proimos, Remi Mathis, Axou, House10902 CC-BY-SA
Imagine adding South Los Angeles to the list of desirable places to call home. Imagine the retail and tourism sectors reinvesting and revitalizing downtown San Bernardnio into the next Gas Lamp Quarter. Imagine the next heroes originating from the inner cities.

Such positive transformation can also bring about investments in family-friendly and affordable urban transit village infrastructure with plenty to do with big living spaces and short bus or train rides to work or school.

But who will take the lead on this by uniting with the good people? Who will take the lead to get those innocent children out of that disgusting motel immediately?


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Inland Empire Transit Briefing - July 2015

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I'm on the run all this week, but I'm well aware there's a bunch of important stories happening in the transportation realm. Here's a run-down:

LA-Phoenix I-10 Transit: Greyhound bus rest stop in Blythe
LA-to-Phoenix Transportation Corridor - I-10 Freeway Bridge Collapse:

The major story that has been unfolding is the bridge collapse that occurred along the I-10 freeway near Desert Center. That's because the I-10 is the primary intercity transportation corridor between Los Angeles and Phoenix. Private intercity transit carriers like Greyhound service the corridor.

Fortunately, SR-62 and SR-86 are good alternatives. I've been hearing some belly-aching that drivers have to detour all the way to I-40 through the High Desert or I-8 through San Diego County, but there are sufficient intermediate routes. From the Inland Empire, one can connect to the Phoenix Valley area via SR-62 from the I-10. Once past Twenty Nine Palms, motorists can use either SR-177 or AZ-95 to get back to the 10. Having checked the mid-day traffic conditions for these routes, they are high in volume with some lengthy queues at some of the junctions, but the overall speeds are good.

The Press Enterprise published an editorial explaining that our infrastructure needs to be funded and maintained; however there is no proof beyond reasonable doubt as of yet that structural deficiency combined with Mother Nature's floods contributed to this specific collapse.

Reports show that the I-10 through Desert Center will be passable once again this Friday. Traffic will be diverted to one lane each way through this area.

Drone Regulations and Firefighting

The other major story is reports of drones interfering with firefighters. At least five drones were reported to be flying around in the Cajon Pass area as firefighters battled the North Fire.

During this year's wildland firefighting season, there have been numerous reports of drone operators foolishly flying their craft in the way of the firefighters in the air, creating some situations where firefighters have to ground their aircraft. That has led to action from the state government.

If you read my posts regularly, you know my general view on state rules and regulations is that the so-called red tape policies need to be streamlined and efficient so that the rules protect us from harm but are not so bureaucratic that they would drive away private investments that create jobs.

Drones have proven to be a good invention and the industry should be allowed to continue developing and improving them. But when operators carelessly interfere with public safety which certainly includes firefighting aircraft, there needs to be some rules and penalties on the books. Members of the state legislature are currently addressing that which includes misdemeanor charges for interfering with firefighters.

Gas Prices

I firmly believe that high fuel prices affect each and every one of us whether one drives a car or not. The latest price data is showing the worst of this gas price hike is over. Reports show prices went up around 63 cents per gallon from last month but the magic number was more like a 75-82 cents price increase. During the last few days, I saw two gas stations posting some very minor price drops.

Governor Brown could have taken short-range action that would have stopped the madness immediately because this situation is all isolated within the state, but the state did not. Thus, we're still at the mercy of the oil market oligopoly. For the long term, expanding and funding better public transportation all over SoCal and improving housing options closer to work must continue. That will drive down gasoline consumption demands. Speaking of which...

IE Apartment Complex Rentals up and High OC Rents Increase even more...

Stats are showing that living in Southern California is getting more expensive.

A Press Enterprise report showed that asking rents for apartments in big-complexes in the Inland Empire market rose 8.9%. Here are the reported stats of average asking rent:

  • 2013: $1,125 per month
  • 2014: $1,182 per month
  • 2015: $1,287 per month

Source: RealFacts, Rental Trends 2Q 2015

Meanwhile the Orange County Register headlined last week, "Want to live in Orange County? It'll cost you $1,848 a month for an apartment - an all-time average high." The data also came from RealFacts. Here's a breakdown of that:
  • Studios - $1,414/mo - Up 9.4% from last year
  • 1 bed, 1 bath - $1,619/mo - Up 8.4%
  • 2 bed, 1 bath - $1,675/mo - Up 6.3%
  • 2 bed, 2 bath - $2,090/mo - Up 5.9%
  • 3 bed, 2 bath - $2,419/mo - Up 4.3%
  • 2 bed townhouse - $2,284/mo - Up 6.5%
  • 3 bed townhouse - $2,842/mo - Up 5.5%

I've mentioned repeatedly that a major contributing factor to San Diego's, LA's and Orange County's expensive housing is short supply of quality units. With a 3 bedroom town house rental creeping up to almost $3,000 per month in OC, good luck trying to find anything affordable there that is spacious and family-friendly. To be fair, development in Irvine and east San Juan Capistrano is soaring, but not quick enough.

Concept: 1,080 family-friendly condo units at 4,200 square feet each stacked 20 stories high plus three "clones" of LA's Bunker Hill Tower at 32 stories each can bring in 1,836 housing units over an existing retail shopping center in the Irvine Business Complex area.
Note: Concept Only. Not officially proposed.
Economics 101 teaches that when you have increased housing demand but stagnant infrastructure supplies, prices go up. I do not want the Inland Empire to be the next Orange County with high rents. We need to see more housing infrastructure development in our area without the urban sprawl as logistics, procurement, and medical sectors grow the IE economy.

If the supplies actually met demands, landowners and developers would actually need to compete for buyers which forces them to improve quality and lower prices. Combined with statewide CEQA reform to stop trivial lawsuits against environmentally friendly infill projects in the name of the environment, this can be possible if the governing bodies zone areas for infill stacked development which would include a supply expansion of 3-5 bedroom family-friendly condo units.

The zoning would be ready to go for any landowner interested in investing in expanding unit infrastructure. Developers would simply be held to account for improving local public works and transportation infrastructure if deemed necessary by the government. But this would be a developer's dream as competition would increase, prices decrease thanks to more efficient government oversight. Best of all, this would mean that the hard working middle class families can once again afford to live where they work without being subsidized by the government.

Improving Inner-city Neighborhoods and Ridding Gang Crime

Next week, I'll have a piece on how areas that are currently mired in social chaos and gang crime can be improved. That way, living in places like South LA, San Bernardino, and Moreno Valley can be desirable options too. There's some debate going on at the national level that would strengthen the ability of law enforcement to crack down on street gang leaders, especially leaders who are not USA citizens. I'll keep a watch on that.

Combined with robust restorative justice and mentor programs offered by the private sector and firm messages to strengthen the family unit, these troubled areas can be transformed into safe places where workers can live and raise their families...and the good people living there won't have to barricade their front yards nor install bars on their home windows anymore. How great would that be?

Balancing the job-to-housing ratio will be a key component of Getting Southern California Moving.

I appreciate you following The Transit Coalition and the productive discussion on the social networking sites. Talk to you all again soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

High Gas Prices and Public Transportation Demands

Almost every time gas prices take a rise, demands to share to the ride and use public transportation go up. Demands to drive go down.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

With Inland Empire gas prices on their way to increasing 80 cents per gallon from last Wednesday, Californians should check out and take advantage of what ridesharing has to offer. High California gas prices and traffic continue to raid worker's commutes and take their money. Those who still drive alone into work early in the morning and leave in the afternoon do have some options. Motorists should take advantage of what existing services from Metrolink, RTA CommuterLink, RTA local, Omnitrans, city-operated bus services, and the private ridesharing and vanpool firms have to offer. By doing so, they can directly support The Transit Coalition's efforts to get Southern California moving by joining an HOV and saving big bucks on their commuting expenses.

However, all of this begs an important question:

Are high gas prices in the state really good for public transportation and carpools?

Short range, the answer is a clear yes.

With fewer cars on the road, our existing infrastructure, long overdue for upgrades, will be less congested. More people would carpool. Transit agencies will enjoy a surge in ridership demands which increases their farebox revenues and route productivity numbers.

But what happens when demands begin to outweigh current infrastructure and service capacities? Managing carpool lane occupancy requirements and improving Park & Ride lot capacities costs money, even if that meant re-striping and re-designating existing freeway lanes. When transit fleets do fill up, those extra bus and train departures will not simply come out of the heavens. Service upgrades cost money. And because farebox revenue only covers a portion of the cost to operate public transportation, transit agencies have to find a means to pay for the added services and capital infrastructure.

That's where high gas prices in California can actually become an obstruction to public transit funding. Yes, a percentage-based gas tax can neutralize some of this but the higher gas prices could also very well obstruct the market economy, a major tax revenue source. That in turn would create a longer-range catch-22 situation for the transportation agencies if nothing is done to solve this problem.

A primary reason why the state's economy could be negated this time around--if nothing is done--is simply because this specific gas price hike is isolated here in the state.

High CA gas prices, the market economy and transit:

If you read our blog posts regularly, you well know that The Transit Coalition is a fact-based transit advocacy group. That means, you may see positions and reasons that you may not find anywhere else.

Perhaps, we might be the only transit advocacy group around that also calls for more job development and hiring in the Inland Empire. Why? To cut down on the long-distance super-commuting demands that clogs our freeways. We also call for a stronger market economy in general throughout Southern California as every major poll suggests that economic security is a top major concern for citizens. Why do we--a transit group--call for a better market economy? This solution provides more tax revenue resources for expanded transit infrastructure and services in a fair way. Plus, with the increased number of jobs, working salaries go up because employers have to look for quality workers. That should be universally agreeable.

Bart Reed, The Transit Coalition's Executive Director and I were made aware of this when we paid a visit to RCTC several years ago. This visit occurred before the logistics and medical sector booms. We learned that transit funding was limited back then in Riverside County simply because many of the jobs in Downtown Riverside were government jobs. Only some were from the private sector. It's the growth in private sector jobs that can drive in the extra tax revenue to help pay for infrastructure upgrades.

One of the reasons why RTA and Omnitrans are now both able to finally put forth proposals for long-overdue bus service upgrades is simply because the IE economy is growing and the governments have the resources to allocate more funds to the transit agencies. And until the state and feds stop displacing our already high transportation tax revenue to other programs, policies to improve the IE market economy with efficient government oversight can provide the extra funding so that RCTC, Metrolink and our transit agencies are not caught in a Catch-22 situation where it becomes difficult to improve carpool lane infrastructure and public transit services when transit/HOV demands soar due to high gas prices.

However, this proven funding solution is negated when Big Oil takes the hard earned money from the pockets of Californian's no thanks to unresolved issues in well-intended state environmental law. When fuel prices go up, the costs of everything we buy--from food, to clothing, to even bicycle parts--go up too. Suppliers, service workers, and delivery employees generally cannot use public transit or a carpool for their work. The infrastructure is simply not there for them to do that. Meanwhile, working salaries for the middle class have remained generally stagnant according to the Press Enterprise.

Short and Long Range Solutions toward Freedom from the Gas Pump

Improving Metrolink-to-sbX connections is certainly a solution.
Photo: Omnitrans
I need to make absolutely clear, if this specific gas price hike situation was nationwide and there were in fact declining oil supplies, the long-term solution of improving transit infrastructure and promoting the growth of clean, efficient and affordable fuels that I pointed a few days ago would be put front and center as a short-range solution too.

But the fact is domestic oil supplies are high, oil prices are down, and this specific economic situation is all isolated only within our state that affects each of us whether one drives a car or not.

That's why this statewide situation requires a specific short-range solution on top of the longer-range answers. That is, do what's necessary to get the fuel supplies to where they need to be in order to get the state's gas prices back down to where they were before this reported "crisis" and reform state law to prevent such a spike of this magnitude from repeating exclusively in California.

If the state's oil refineries fail to produce what's necessary whether caused by refinery production problems, bidding wars overseas for chemicals or any other excuse to keep statewide gas prices well above the national average, the state government with EPA approval would temporarily allow gas stations to import traditional fuel which would force the in-state refineries and overseas suppliers to compete and not exploit the rules for their own financial gain. No environmental activist should want a global pollutant to profit big time due to loopholes in state environmental law.

Where is the law that would hold the Big Oil oligopoly accountable?

This short-range solution would keep the clean summer blend fuel mandates on the books while holding the oil industry accountable for keeping supplies in check with demands that prevents sudden price spikes during the summer. Longer-range, efficient, powerful and zero emissions clean vehicles should become the norm originating from clean power sources. That would free us from Big Oil, period, leaving urban sprawl and traffic congestion as the two major policy issues for private automobiles. Smog and dirty air from cars would be a thing of the past.

But because the rest of the nation was not impacted by this crisis, keeping the state's fuel prices well above the national average may prove to be bad for the state's economy.

If the current fuel shortage is allowed to continue, more industries will invest or move jobs out-of-state due to the simple fact that costs are lower there and California's economic future as well as the stability of mass transit operations could very well be threatened even though more people will be jumping aboard the buses, trains and carpool lanes. We would therefore have no fair means to pay for the upgrades as well as the long-range solution.

Nobody should support this scenario and the state government has an obligation to its people from preventing that from happening. The gas price directory service GasBuddy should not have to take the lead on this matter through a petition drive. The state government should have already been on this as this issue has been going on for far too long.

We need to hold the power structure to account to ensure public transportation is paid for and that non-polluting free market competition with efficient government oversight--not powerful oil oligopolies--are driving the Inland Empire economy.

Monday, July 13, 2015

California's Special Blend Fuel Mandates and High Gas Prices

Is a well-intended 1996 California environmental rule exacerbating fuel prices statewide?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Does California's Summer Gasoline Blend actually reduce emissions and provide for cleaner air, or does it simply choke off supply and contribute to higher gas prices? I will do what I can to answer that question.

According to government documents, The Clean Air Act, as amended in 1990, requires areas with poor air quality to sell fuel that uses a "special gasoline blend" designed to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air. The law went into effect in 1995 which also allows states, with EPA approval, to require the use of other special blends as part of their effort to meet air quality standards.

The Greater Los Angeles area was certainly no exception. LA's transportation system was much different 25 years ago. Dirty, gas-guzzling cars made their way into the central city every day of the workweek during this time. Prior to 1990, LA generally had dirty, car-centric transportation infrastructure. This period of Southern California pre-dated today's fuel efficient cars and hybrids, Metrolink, Metro Rail, Metro Rapid, several park & ride lots, and most of Southern California's carpool lanes. The only real transit/HOV infrastructure LA enjoyed back then was the El Monte Busway. Orange County also had carpool lanes along SR-55 and the I-405 freeways north of Santa Ana. That meant too many people drove alone into LA in their cars everyday because there were no other efficient means to do so.

Through the early 90's, LA's mass transit system was in its infancy with the birth of Metrolink, and the Metro Blue and Red Lines. But LA still had dirty air. In an effort to address LA's smog-infested air quality back then, California required the statewide introduction of its special blend gasoline in 1996 with the California Reformulated Gasoline Program, going beyond what the feds had mandated. It was to provide greater pollution reduction during the summer months, than what was federally required. The special blend gasoline was designed to provide the same performance of traditional fuel but with much lower emissions. Because LA's air was so dirty, especially during the summer months, such a well-intended law was needed to clean up the smog.

For the record, Riverside, Moreno Valley and other nearby regions within the Inland Empire still experience bad air quality days no thanks to LA smog that gets blown in throughout the hot summer months without an outlet.

Studying the Special Blend Impacts with the Clunkers Cash for Clunkers - Dodge Caravan

A 2005 study (GAO-05-421) by the United States Government Accountability Office shows that California's special blend did reduce emissions by substantial margins.

The GAO's estimates were based, in part, on data regarding how special gasoline blends affect emissions from older vehicles--aka, the dirty clunkers. However, this data according to the GAO has not been comprehensively tested on current vehicle types with newer emissions controls.

Current vehicles sold in the marketplace are much more cleaner and fuel efficient than they were back in the 90's. In fact, they have become even more efficient between the time of this study in 2005 and 2015. That includes SUV's and pick-up trucks; both were the gas guzzlers of the past. Part of the reason why LA's air was cleaner in 2005 than in the 90's could be attributed to the use of special blends; however today's newer fuel efficient cars may yield the similar cleaner air results with either the federally-mandated blend or even traditional fuel. I believe another updated study is needed using the newer cars.

Isolated California Fuel Market

But here's the main issue of this well-intended fuel policy. The rules governing California's special blend fuel has certainly strained our gasoline supply system and there is no question about that.

When disruptions cause supply shortages of this special type of fuel, oil companies can hike the price. That's because neither the federal special blend fuel nor traditional fuel can be imported into the state. California's fuel market is isolated.

Five days ago last Wednesday, a federal report was released that documented dismal fuel supply and import numbers for the state. Almost instantly, fuel prices took off. Five days later, several gas stations in the Inland Empire posted 80 cents-per-gallon price hikes with many crossing well over the $4.00 mark. Some gas stations in the Inland Empire have yet to adopt the higher gas prices according to GasBuddy with some still in the $3.25-$3.45 range. If you're near one these stations, you should fill up.

Because several of the Inland gas stations have yet to post the higher fuel prices, we don't have an accurate average price at the time of this post. However, the 80 cent price jump that I have been seeing at several gas stations may give us some answers of where the Inland Empire's average price is headed.

This GasBuddy chart shows that Riverside County's average price of fuel prior to release of the federal report was around $3.48. San Bernardino County averaged around the same amount. If the real-time price hike does turn out be 80 cents across the board, the average price of gas within the Inland Empire will be headed to $4.28 per gallon. At the time of this post, the Inland Empire average was just below $4.00

To compare, the national average according to the gas price website is around $2.77. That means we are already paying $1.23 more than the national average and may be paying a whopping $1.51 more per gallon once every gas station adopts the higher prices. To compare directly with out-of-state neighboring metropolitan areas, Seattle's average was $3.23, Portland was $3.13, Boise $3.09, Las Vegas $3.29, Phoenix $2.77, Tuscon $2.48, and Salt Lake City $2.90. To be fair, some of these regions too recently experienced some price increases, but nowhere near the range of California's.

Righteous Anger at the Pump

California motorists have every right to be angry about this latest spike in gas prices due to the degree of this shortage. Many will blame the oil companies directly, but supply-and-demand economics combined with a flawed but well-intended environmental state law is what's driving this instability.

Because special-blend fuel supplies are lacking, we are facing yet another statewide "shortage" and spiking prices while prices remain relatively stable elsewhere. That is a factual side effect of a well-intended law.

These negative consequences of the 1996 California Reformulated Gasoline Program have been going on for far too long. The law's reasoning that California's special blend emits few pollutants into the air is valid and has been proven using older clunker vehicles. The law is noble and should be studied with newer cars given the fact that portions of Southern California still has to deal with dirty air quality during the summer. But that does not excuse the severe price impacts caused by the shortened supply that sends massive sums of profits over to the oil industry paid for by hard-working Californians. High gas prices negate the entire California market economy, reduces our spending power, and costs us jobs while the oil industry enjoys massive profits. We are not slaves to big oil; we are free people. Yes, high gas prices incentivizes people to consume less, use public transit or carpool but the cost-to-benefit ratio does not add up in favor of a Better Inland Empire nor freedom in general. The side effects are just too great.

Moving Forward both Short Range and Long Range

The GAO had a sound recommendation back in '05: The feds should develop a plan to balance the environmental benefits of using special fuels with the impacts of these fuels on the gasoline supply infrastructure. If warranted, the EPA would work with other agencies within the federal government to identify what statutory or other changes are required to implement this plan and request those authorities from Congress. Whatever the feds did, California's fuel market still remains isolated.

The state government may want to adopt and act on a similar plan to reform the California Reformulated Gasoline Program which should include temporary waivers on the state's strict fuel mandates during special blend supply disruptions as a short to mid-range solution. That way, Big Oil cannot exploit the law for their financial gain off of the backs of We the People. No environmentalist should want a pollutant to profit from environmental laws. That just makes no sense.

GasBuddy has an active petition on that. For the longer range, the marketplace needs to be incentivized to bring in efficient zero-emission cars where robust competition can make them more affordable which would considerably cut down on fuel consumption and clean up LA's air quality. Plus, improved public transportation infrastructure and services would also incentivize more commuters to take the bus or train to work instead of driving alone. Both Metrolink and connecting express bus services need to be expanded.

Both of these solutions would spell freedom from high gas prices.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Another Giant Gas Price Surge in California

But what are We the People going to do about that?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

My curiosity of the latest surge in gas prices statewide all began after I noticed a local Chevron gas station raised their prices 14 cents per gallon overnight yesterday morning, from $3.55 up to $3.69 per gallon within a 24 hour period. This follows a slow and steady decline in prices during the last several weeks.

Just as prices were steadily going down and as the unacceptable price difference of about $1.30 per gallon between Inland Empire prices and national average was slowly shrinking back towards about a 60-75 cent per-gallon difference, the trend rapidly reversed course during the last 36-48 hours. Many gas stations I passed by yesterday went up 10-15 cents per gallon as the day progressed with some local stations posting some of the sharpest hikes I've personally ever seen.

The RS Service Station located on the eastern edge of the Corona Grand Avenue Circle for example, perhaps one of the least expensive places to refuel in west Riverside County has been hovering around $3.29 per gallon earlier this week. At 4:40pm yesterday afternoon, regular unleaded surged to $3.69, up an overwhelming 40 cents per gallon. The competing Arco station in the area--also another low price location for the region--still sold regular unleaded at $3.29 per gallon at that time; droves of motorists jammed into the Arco station during yesterday's afternoon rush hour to take advantage of the lower prices. But the biggest jump I saw was at a local Chevron station in north Temecula. At 6:15pm last night, the price for regular unleaded with cash payment was $4.29 per gallon, up a whopping 60 cents per gallon from $3.69.

The latest spike is reportedly in response to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report that was released Wednesday. Basically, the report says the West Coast's gasoline inventory is in decline even though our crude oil stockpiles have reached 465.4 million barrels as of June 26 and crude oil prices are dropping toward $52 per barrel. Immediately following the report, wholesale prices spiked 27 cents a gallon. Plus, a Gas Buddy price chart shows that fuel prices in California are taking the steepest price hikes once again by a substantial margin.

High Gas Prices? Do Something About It...

All right, enough with me complaining. This is not The Complaining Coalition. What are We the People going to do about this situation? What are We, Californians going to do take control of this awful economic problem? We simply cannot allow such spikes to continue to dictate how we live our lives. This has already happened once before earlier this year and we should not tolerate this nonsense anymore.

Short Range: Allow the imports of traditional fuel when special blend runs low.

For starters, the good folks at Gas Buddy urged its users yesterday to "fill up soon". Economics 101 teaches us that when prices are about to go up, buy when prices are low. Many people took advantage of that as demonstrated by the crowded central Corona Arco station yesterday. At the time of this post, some gas stations still have yet to adopt the higher prices. So, there is still time to lock in the lower prices for one more full tank.

Today, the gas price directory website firm has urged its California users to sign a petition asking Governor Jerry Brown and the EPA to issue an executive waiver on California's specific gasoline mandates until these extreme circumstances are corrected. That will allow California gas stations to import traditional fuel and would solve this inventory problem immediately.

While fuel supplies on the West Coast have been kept low, domestic crude oil stocks remain plentiful and the price of crude oil is falling.  Plus the national average for the price of regular unleaded did not spike as sharply as California's. There were also no reports of California oil refineries going out. That means there should be no excuse on earth for a fuel supply shortage. Good competition with efficient government oversight and allowing the marketplace to import traditional fuel in times of special-blend shortages whether caused by refinery problems or any other issue would solve the West Coast fuel supply shortage immediately, making this spike a short-lived event.

Longer Range Solutions to High Fuel Prices

Looking further ahead, The Transit Coalition has been very keen to support policies that expand mobility options and balance the job-to-housing ratios in order to cut down on fuel consumption demands.

Both LA and Orange County need to allow developers to expand in-fill housing infrastructure so that people can afford to live there without being crammed. The Inland Empire also needs to continue to grow its job market while ensuring housing here remains affordable. Plus, other car manufacturers need to begin to compete with Tesla, get more attractive and efficient zero-emissions cars into the marketplace so that these clean vehicles that would reduce pollution in the Inland Empire can become affordable and thus free us from the gas pump.

Coalition Concept: RTA Route 206 along conceptual I-15 HOT Express/toll lanes through Wildomar.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RTA, RCTC or any public entity.
Let's not forget that the expansion of Metrolink and connecting express bus services would give commuters an incentive to use public transportation to get to-and-from work. While cleaner cars will bring us clean air, traffic congestion still remains a serious problem in California. Rail, transit, and high occupancy vehicle infrastructure development to support such expansion must continue. The state and federal governments need to be held to account to properly fund mobility.

But The Transit Coalition needs your help and support too. By supporting our non-ideological, fact-based campaigns, you can help us be the unified voice that would call for the declaration of freedom from high prices at California's gas pumps.

Editor's note: As of Friday, July 10, 2015 at 10:45pm, regular unleaded fuel at the Temecula Chevron gas station referenced at the start of the article was priced at $4.37 according to Gas Buddy, 82 cents per gallon higher from $3.55 on Wednesday at 5:45am. The RS Station in central Corona was at $3.99, up 70 cents from Wednesday while the competing Arco station was at $3.51, up 21 cents.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Smart Growth: Independence from Expensive Housing in LA and OC

Would you like to finally have the freedom to live where you work?

Expensive Urban Life: The Emerson tower offers expanded housing supply in Downtown LA. Because of surging demands and limited downtown competition, rental rate for a single bedroom unit is a whopping $2,500-$3,000 per month. 2 bedrooms about $3,800.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I hope you all had a safe and Happy Independence Day weekend. Now that the holiday has come to past, we need to discuss an independence topic that every hard working Californian should support.

Over the weekend, I ran across an Associated Press article over the Inland Empire's ongoing problem of long distance commuting.

The issue of long distance commuting in Southern California

The story features an undergraduate counselor who works at UCLA but has to commute a whopping 80 miles to get to work. That nearly doubles my recent 40 mile rush hour field study between South Temecula and Corona. And he's not alone.

The university worker is part of a vanpool with a total of 10 passengers. Regional public transportation options in and out of the West LA area remains very sparse and carpool lane infrastructure for the vanpool HOV is either lacking or is clogged. The Transit Coalition is currently working on fixing those problems. That includes getting the Metro JEM Line built between this area and the San Fernando Valley and supporting the Purple Line extension (a.k.a. Subway towards the sea) from Downtown LA.

The AP piece did mention that by the time the Purple Line gets extended, the UCLA worker would be retired. But given the fact that the West LA-Downtown corridor is heavily and densely populated with both residential and employment hubs, the subway project is badly needed.

However one question remains unanswered:

Why don't people live where they work?

Why doesn't the UCLA counselor and the rest of the vanpool live closer to their jobs at the university? The answer should be pretty obvious.

Take a look at this chart of West LA houses and condos for sale put out by the real estate listing site Zillow:

1842 Greenfield Ave APT 401, Los Angeles, CA
Condo For Sale
2 bds • 2 ba • 1,598 sqft • Built 1991

2134 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA
House For Sale
3 bds • 2 ba • 1,608 sqft • 5,401 sqft lot • Built 1928

2107 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA
House For Sale
4 bds • 3 ba • 1,726 sqft • 5,407 sqft lot • Built 1929

10517 Ilona Ave, Los Angeles, CA
House For Sale
5 bds • 4.5 ba • 4,205 sqft • 6,084 sqft lot • Built 1941

Santa Monica from the Getty Museum (2344684750) Rentals are not much better. According to the Apartment Guide listing website, studios were renting for a whopping $1,580 per month at Centrepointe Apartments. Westwood Village starts from--ready?--$3,600. And HillCreste Apartments start at an overwhelming $2,558 per month for one bedrooms. Single rooms for rent in West LA started at $750 according to EasyRoommate. By the way, the asking $750 figure for a room rental in West LA was actually a lot lower than I thought it was. I predict prospective renters will end up bidding for these units which would result in higher rates.

So if the UCLA counselor wanted to buy or rent directly within the affluent West LA region and if he is raising a family, UCLA would need to pay him a gigantic salary for him to live there because vacant family-friendly housing units are so expensive. I don't think the public at large would support such a salary hike. For the record, the price of the listed $1.3 million 3 bedroom house at Overland Avenue more than doubled from $629,000 in 2002 according to Zillow.

Okay, why don't more people live near where they work?

With West LA out of the question, what about the nearby neighborhoods? 

Across the Sepulveda Pass, into the San Fernando Valley, housing prices are a little bit more affordable. For example, a  4 bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom 1,660 square foot house built in the 1950's within the central city portion of San Fernando was listed at $429,000. However, rentals are still on the high side. Many 3 bedroom units crossed the $2,000 per month threshold and several studio units surpassed $1,000 monthly.

To the south, forget Orange County. Housing unit costs there are nearly out of control, right up there with the Bay Area. More on that in a moment.

Jefferson Park South
To be fair, South Los Angeles had a pretty good buyer's selection. A family-friendly four bedroom, five bathroom house at a generous 2,784 square feet was listed at $572,900 a short drive or quick transit ride away from several LA job hubs. 3 bedroom rentals ranged from $1,500 to $2,000 per month. Studios were priced at about $750-$800. Single bedrooms were about $800-$1,200 per month.

But, come on!

Is South Central Los Angeles really the safest place to live and raise a family? You make the call.

Generally speaking, housing unit prices are clearly out of control and a short supply of desirable housing combined with lack of robust competition between developers are primarily to blame. As both Los Angeles and Orange County experienced population growth, housing infrastructure has generally failed to keep up. Hardworking families and the working middle classes have to face either overcrowding in small units, housing costs that exceed what they can afford, or long distance commutes. That would more than likely explain why many people commute in daily from the Inland Empire.

Housing infrastructure shortage = skyrocketing costs and few options

The fact is home development infrastructure has not kept up with demand other than here in the Inland Empire, creating supply shortages in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego that pushes prices through the roof--pardon the pun.

That's why we had urban sprawl in its worst means in the Inland Empire last decade. The demands for affordable housing units were so great, that home developers came into the Inland Empire cities and built because that's the region that welcomed the expansion. Workers then--and still to this day-- have to travel long distances to/from work. Short supplies and skyrocketing prices in the job-hub areas affect us all whether you believe in urban sprawl or not.

The Orange County Register reported just this last January that the minimum income needed to rent just a two-bedroom apartment in Orange County is a whopping $65,760, according to a report in August by the California Housing Partnership Corp., a low-income housing advocacy and research organization. The group estimates Orange County has a shortage of nearly 102,000 housing units affordable to very low-income households, or those earning half of the median income or less. Other experts predict a shortfall of 30,000 to 60,000 housing units. Many workers are priced out from living where they work...Not good.

Developers need to come back into Orange County and add these 102,000 housing units quickly and efficiently.

No Land Space? Redevelop Existing Infrastructure...

Don't tell me Orange County and LA are out of land space. That's simply no excuse to do nothing.

Yes, undeveloped land space is pretty much a thing of the past for both regions. But that also means that developers need to have a streamlined means to rebuild and transform existing development so that it can better address what the marketplace is demading--better housing the region's workforce. Temecula is already exploring such development for a local corridor even though the region still has plenty of undeveloped land space. Land values there are going up too; that's a prime reason that the City should move forward with the Jefferson Avenue Specific Plan. Keeping housing supplies in line with the demands will keep the unit and rental prices affordable for the workforce as land property values increase.

Infill development needs to be planned properly so to avoid over-densifying the region. Plus, there needs to be an expansion of full-size family-friendly housing condo units too, not just studios and 1-2 bedroom units. The generous square footage of many single family homes can be incorporated into stacked developments too. With the lack of individual backyards, such development needs plenty of private open commons space. That will make urban living more competitive.

Cities in both LA and Orange County need to designate blocks as specific land-use plans ready to go for in-fill home developers so that workers raising families can afford to live there. In Orange County, that could mean allowing retail shopping centers to be transformed into mixed-use hubs. Numerous amounts of valuable land space is being wasted solely for single-story surface parking at these large strip malls. That is a fact.

For example, the Von Karman Plaza located on the northeastern side of the Irvine Business Complex is a giant suburban style retail shopping center with a huge surface parking lot. This job hub is an urban employment center in Orange County complete with office skyscrapers and full service hotels. What government policies are stopping the land owner from redeveloping this area into a robust mixed-use center with additional housing and plenty of open space? With the additional units for rent or for sale, the land owner would make bank from this investment.

I already did the math and calculations. Take a look at this conceptual art piece:

Concept: Placing 1,836 housing units--most family friendly--over an existing suburban retail shopping center in the Irvine Business Complex:

Concept: 1,080 family-friendly condo units at 4,200 square feet each stacked 20 stories high plus three "clones" of LA's Bunker Hill Tower at 32 stories each can bring in 1,836 housing units over an existing retail shopping center in the Irvine Business Complex area.
Note: Concept Only. Not officially proposed.

What I did is took an aerial screenshot of a giant community park in Southwest Riverside County and pasted it to scale over the Von Karman Plaza property. Then, I traced the rectangular area of the full-size basketball court which is about 4,200 square feet and was able to stamp in 54 housing units within the property at that scale. If the developer stacks these units in groups of 8 towers each 20 stories high, Von Karman Plaza can bring in 1,080 family-friendly housing units at 4,200 square feet each with land space to spare. Plus, I was also able to stamp in three "clones" of the Bunker Hill Tower condos from Downtown Los Angeles to scale. The three 32 story towers would bring in an additional 756 units of housing ranging from studios to four bedrooms. This plan would add in 1,836 units of housing to the Irvine Business Complex area, most of which would be family-friendly. The primary market would be Irvine Business Complex area employees.

The ground floor would support expanded retail outlet infrastructure--existing Von Karman Plaza tenants such as Staples, the Habit Burger Grill, Starbucks Coffee and Taco Bell would be given priority placements. The basement level would be 2 stories deep and would offer plenty of customer, resident and guest parking. Retail customers, residents and their guests would pay no fee. General public parking pays the market rate. OCTA and Irvine City bus transit services would be upgraded with potential Bravo! BRT services along the major roads.

Converting OC Strip Malls and Surface Parking Lots into Mixed-use Retail Villages

Concept: Urban Advantage shows how a Walnut Creek BART transit station surface parking lot can be better utilized in high-demand areas with housing units over retail.
From Buena Park to San Clemente, there has to be hundreds of other retail centers and sprawling surface parking lots like Von Karman Plaza built on valuable land space all throughout Orange County that can be utilized to better address the housing shortage problem while preserving the usefullness of the existing retail amenities.

The landowners need to be able to invest in improving the housing supplies. I was able to show that 1,836 housing units can be developed over a single suburban shopping center. Since the California Housing Partnership Corp predicts Orange County has a shortfall of 102,000 units, this pattern can be repeated 56 times throughout the dense job hubs all over the county and the shortfall issue would be solved. The total land value of each of these villages would be worth millions, but plenty of supply would mean that individual condo unit purchase prices and rentals would be competitive and affordable to workers.

Plus, the affordable rentals would not need to be subsidized by the government because supplies would be in balance with demands. Imagine if each 4,200 square foot condo unit sold for only $350,000 or rented for less than $1,500 per month, studios rented for only $750, single bedrooms $900, 2 bedrooms $1,100, and rooms-for-rent $450-$500 in Orange County and LA simply because of better free market competition and better supplies. No rentals would need to be subsidized with the exception of some safety-net cases. How spectacular would that be?

Yes, in order for the developer to profit at those selling prices, the total cost of the 8 family-friendly condo towers cannot exceed $378 million not including the cost of the retail floor level. That will be a challenge. But as manufactured housing technology improves and becomes more efficient, the cost to design and construct the towers would drop considerably as the building "blocks" would be common parts.

The timeframe to build these skyscraper units will be shortened with lower costs and better competition between developers. China has already demonstrated this by erecting a full size 57 story skyscraper in only 19 working days that can withstand a 9.0 earthquake. Most of the construction labor would be done in the factory, but the common parts of the building would be readily available since they would be produced in mass and ready to go. That means changes to government policies combined with this technology means that this shortage problem could get solved within a few months, not several years.

To be fair, there are very few strip malls on large lots in the denser areas of Los Angeles and parcel assembly of the small and expensive existing property may be needed in places like West LA in order develop these family-friendly urban villages. Plus, LA must finally do whatever it can to rid the streets of South Central LA of violent gang crime in order to stir up investments into better housing for the good people living there. South LA's residents should not have to install bars over the windows of their homes. Short-range solution would be to flood the area with strong law enforcement and expand restorative justice, family rebuilding and rehabilitation programs for the long term.

However, it is no question that the local governments cannot allow this housing shortage to continue, especially for workers raising families. Developers need to come in and expand the infrastructure. Expensive and crowded housing weakens the local economy, making it harder to attract new businesses, spark retail investments and harder for existing businesses to recruit qualified workers. That could explain why the Inland Empire economy is improving a rates better than LA and Orange County. That's because homes are affordable here. And they need to stay affordable and competitive as the medical, logistics, manufacturing, and procurement sectors invest in jobs.

The time is now to get this situation under control instead of it controlling us. We must finally declare our freedom and independence from high housing prices.