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.