Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
Two weeks ago, the Press Enterprise published an extensive article headlined on the front page of its Local section that reported the continued traffic mess in the City of Corona. Also in yesterday's paper, another front page article described how the 91 was a potential target of mass terrorism which, thank God, never happened. I'll touch base on the foiled terror plan in a moment, but first the traffic problem.
With the construction of the 91 Project through the Circle City, many motorists have resorted to cut through on the east/west surface streets in an attempt to bypass the peak-hour congestion, some of which too are undergoing construction. As a result, Corona's main roads in and around the 91 and I-15 freeways are also heavily congested by outside through traffic during the rush hours, and that has infuriated residents.
When the newspaper interviewed Corona Traffic Manager Dennis Ralls about this problem, he hit the nail on the head and told the truth. He reported that the $1.4 billion 91 Project is not the cure-all for the Corona Crawl. But the second point that he raised is the key.
"To solve the problem, you either have to build another major alternative or more people have to start working closer to home," Ralls said.
Both must happen. And as a transit advocate, here's my "major alternative" and the governments of all levels should begin commencing it immediately.
1. Fully fund the 91 Express Lanes and promote Carpooling
2. Develop Direct Access Ramps for the 91 Express Lanes at Major Transit Hubs
|I-15 Express Lanes Direct Access Ramp|
3. Upgrade Passenger Rail Service Options
4. Better allow working people to live where they work
Look. The truth is people working in Orange County are electing to live in the Inland Empire not because they like driving long distances to and from work in their cars. It's not about people loving their cars. That would be insane. The reason people live far from their jobs is because quality and non-subsidized affordable housing is generally not available west of Santa Ana Canyon. Likewise, high-paying jobs are generally lacking in the Inland Empire although to be fair, logistics, construction, medical, and entry-level retail jobs are growing and small businesses continue to invest in areas like Corona and Murrieta. We're doing our part and we must continue to allow the marketplace to grow the good-paying positions. Once there's good competition in the Inland Empire job market, median salaries will go up because employers would actually have to look and compete for skilled labor or face costly employee turnover.
But with the demands for better housing way up in Orange County, you would think it would be a developer's dream to go into that region and address it by transforming the suburban shopping centers and strip malls into new, safe, and robust community-oriented transit villages with spacious, family friendly units with mid-level offices and ground-level retail outlets.
Obviously, that demand is not being met because high taxation and awful trivial regulatory rules at the state level combined with the general lack of mixed-use zones in retail and commercial districts locally prevent the builders from profiting from such work. Heck, even a competing firm or a NIMBY group can simply walk in and file a frivolous CEQA suit against such in-fill development and get away with it financially. To be fair, some OC cities have allowed for residential development in existing commercial corridors, but more has to be done.
Ironically, state politicians are calling for better growth and reduced vehicles miles travelled under the climate change banner. But the fact that existing law is exacerbating traffic gridlock through the Santa Ana Canyon and other corridors in and out of Orange County should wake up the politicians. Where is the environmental law that says that if housing costs surge in a job-rich region due to lack of infrastructure and high demands which results in a substantial increase in vehicle miles travelled, the local jurisdictions within 10 miles of the job hub are to complete a general plan update and public hearing, zone the regions for infill housing and make them shovel-ready with the state expediting the environmental review work with same-day approvals and protection against CEQA abuse. Where is that law which would draw developer competition with quality housing and lower prices?
It is long past time to solve this problem as this entire Inland Empire urban sprawl disaster has been going on for far too long. The remark that I commonly hear of homebuyers wanting spacious and cheaper family-friendly housing units in the Inland Empire is valid; I must make that clear. The culture of high demands of living in large, new homes is a contributor to the sprawl development on far-off, low-cost land on the outer finges next to new or non-congested highways. But if competing developers offered the same 3,000-4,000 square foot single family units in the form of stacked condos and apartments with plenty of open space commons, the cost to buy or rent one of those would be competitive at about $1,500 per month if supplies actually met demands. But right now, the market rate for one of these units in Orange County would be well over $1 million or about $4,000-$4,500 monthly.
That's why so many people commute on the 91. That's why Corona is plagued by gridlock.
Terror attack averted
With proactive law enforcement tactics following the San Bernardino shootings with the help of citizens' tips, that long-planned barbaric plot will not be executed. Thank God. Because this failed operation is now exposed, count on stronger intelligence-driven law enforcement along this and all other major transportation corridors. The suspect Enrique Marquez Jr is being held in a federal prison facility in Downtown Los Angeles.
And after hearing this story, I may actually smile the next time I'm stuck in traffic in Corona and it will likely be that way for some time. That's because I'll be thankful to the men and women in the law enforcement who risk their lives to protect gridlocked corridors from becoming terror targets. I'll never forget that each time I pass through the Corona Crawl.