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Brown Vetoes Road User Safety Laws Including Hit-and-Run, Vulnerable User

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In the last hours before the deadline for signing legislation from this year’s legislative session, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a batch of bills that could have improved safety for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.

Included in the list of today’s vetoes are three bills addressing the problem of hit-and-run crimes. Two of them would have increased penalties for convictions, and one would have made it easier to catch hit-and-run perpetrators. This brings to a total of four bills on the issue that passed both houses of the legislature with very few no votes—some unanimously—only to end up on the governor’s chopping block.

The governor’s general objection to creating new crime categories and increasing penalties was his excuse for declining these bills.

For similar reasons, Brown also vetoed Assemblymember Mark Levine’s “vulnerable user” bill that would have defined bicyclists and pedestrians, and a few other groups, as a special category of road users, and raised fines for conviction of violations that result in injury to them.

Another bill vetoed today was one that would have assessed a violation point against a driver’s record if convicted of using a cell phone or texting while driving. A second provision of the bill, requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to include at least one question on the driver’s license exam addressing the dangers of distracted driving, may happen anyway. Brown, in his veto message [PDF], writes that he has directed the DMV to add such a question.

Here’s a full list of bills that would have made the roads safer that were axed by the Governor:

  • Assembly Bill 2337, from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), which would have increased the automatic driver’s license suspension for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. Governor Brown vetoed this bill last week, writing that he thought current penalties seemed appropriate—thus hinting that he would be likely to veto the others as well.
  • A.B. 1532, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would have required an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit, whether that person was injured or not. Assemblymember Gatto’s intent was to enforce the notion that people must stop when they are involved in a crash, no matter what. The governor disagreed, citing his usual reluctance to create new categories of crime and stiffen penalties. “I don’t find sufficient justification for creating a new crime when no injury to person or property occurred. I think the current law is adequate,” says his veto message [PDF].
  • A.B. 47, also from Gatto, which would have created a new “Yellow Alert” system, similar to the existing Amber Alert that broadcasts information about child abductions quickly throughout the state. The Yellow Alert would have broadcast descriptions of vehicles suspected of being involved in hit-and-run crimes using freeway changeable message signs and other outlets to help law enforcement apprehend criminals who leave the scene of a collision. Governor Brown refused to sign this bill because of another bill, which he did sign, that adds developmentally disabled people to the groups for which the Amber Alert system can be used. “This expansion should be tested before adding more categories of individuals that could overload the system,” he wrote [PDF]. It’s doubtful that the families and friends of hit-and-run victims would agree that this wait-and-see approach is sensible.
  • A.B. 2673, from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), which would have removed the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction. Assemblymember Bradford wanted to remove this loophole that allows people with expensive lawyers to get off the hook for criminal prosecution if they make up with the injured party. Governor Brown’s concern, according to his veto message [PDF], is the backlog of court cases in the state, with this law removing a “means for parties to settle their disputes outside the criminal court system.”
  • A.B. 2398, from Mark Levine (D-San Rafael), which would have raised fines for violations when certain “vulnerable road users,” including bicyclists and pedestrians, were injured as a result of the violation. Brown’s veto message reads: “I think the current laws are sufficient.” [PDF]
  • A.B. 1646, from Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), which would have added a point to a driver’s record for using a cell phone or texting while driving. The governor, yet again, disagreed that the bill was necessary to curb cell phone use and texting while driving [PDF]. He would rather wait until the DMV finishes an analysis of its data on distracted driving than enact this safety measure.

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Gov Signs Transit Funding Bills, Money Coming for Local Operators

sacto_capitol.jpgPhoto: hanneorla
California transit operators are poised to receive a temporary infusion of $400 million in cash from the state for operating funds, a move that could defray immediate shortfalls and set up a steady stream of state money for the foreseeable future.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ratified last night the laws (ABX8 6 and ABX8 9) that eliminate the gas tax, which included stipulations on transit funding, and replace it with an excise tax. Despite the removal of the transit funding mechanisms in the gas tax, these bills ensure that transit operators have steady funding for operations by using the sales tax on diesel to replenish the State Transit Assistance Fund (STA).

The governor had declined to sign the transit operation funding bills that transit advocates and lawmakers crafted to match his own budget proposal. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom last week decried the news that the governor hadn't signed the bills as a "back-breaker" for Muni and said that by signing the bills, Schwarzenegger would have been a "transit hero, at least for the week, until there are other cuts the next week."

"We see this as making great progress toward establishing stable and reliable transit operating funding," said California Transit Association (CTA) Spokesperson Jeff Wagner. "While it eliminates sources of funding that transit should have been getting, it will create a source of funding that will provide transit with far more than it has been getting, on average."

According to the CTA, the laws signed by Schwarzenegger will establish a baseline of $350 million each year for transit operations starting in 2012, with allocations projected to reach $400 million in 2016-17 and $500 million in 2020-21. Compare that with the average annual STA allocation of $258.5 million over the last five years and $189.9 million over the last ten years and operators could see light at the end of a long tunnel of state transit raids.

In San Francisco, the MTA would receive $36 million both this fiscal year and next -- not enough to fix the projected deficit of $50 million next year, but certainly a welcome shot in the arm. MTA staff and the agency's Board are still evaluating the impact of the windfall on the current budget year, including whether to use the funds to partially or fully stave off planned 10 percent service cuts.


Texas Oil Companies Fund Measure to Repeal CA Climate Law

3_5_10_pollution.jpgAir pollution over the Inland Empire. Photo: DanDC/Flickr

(Editor's note: This is the first of two stories by Streetsblog LA Editor Damien Newton on efforts to delay implementation of California's groundbreaking climate legislation.)

In 2006, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), a landmark law that requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. 

The legislation was the first of its kind in the United States and set a precedent numerous states have followed subsequently. For transportation reformers and environmentalists, AB 32 is important legislation that could still be a "game changer" in the way California thinks about transportation.

Thanks to a coalition of pro-business Republicans and the oil industry, however, there is a strong push to place a measure on this fall’s ballot to postpone the implementation of AB 32 objectives. Critics of the climate bill cite the current economic crisis as a valid reason to delay trying to clean California’s air. Assuming opponents of AB 32 can gather a minimum of 433,971 valid signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot, voters will be asked to vote to "delay" the implementation of AB 32 until the state unemployment level dips below 5.5%.

While former Gubernatorial candidate and current Congressman Tom McClintock and Assemblyman Dan Logue, the figureheads in the anti-AB 32 campaign, aren’t members of the oil lobby, a recent New York Times article revealed that oil giants Tesoro and Valero have funded the anti-AB 32 measure on the ballot. Neither firm will either confirm or deny their involvement.

Steven Maviglio, of Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs took exception to the idea that AB 32 is bad for the economy, saying the new ballot measure would be the culprit in damaging the bottom line, particularly in the clean technology field. "This initiative would destroy the clean energy economy," he said. "There's more than $5 billion in venture capital, 3,000 businesses and 45,000 people employed in Clean Tech. This would take a wrecking ball to the only flourishing part of the economy."



It’s Official: Governor’s Budget Shorts Public Transit Once Again

gov_outlining_budget.jpgSchwarzenegger outlines his budget at a Capitol press conference. Photo: Governor's Press Office
Governor Schwarzenegger's budget (PDF), unveiled today at a Capitol press conference, confirms what transit agencies and advocates across the state have been fearing: a $1.5 billion proposed scheme to divert funds that would otherwise provide critical relief to California's struggling transit agencies.

"Once again, the governor offers shell games instead of solutions, and transit riders in California again suffer the consequences," said Joshua Shaw, the Executive Director of the California Transit Association (CTA). "The governor wants to disguise this as some sort of tax relief for families. What about the thousands of families who depend on public transit to get to work or to go out and buy food to put on their tables, the kids who need transit to get to school, or the elderly and disabled persons who rely on transit to access medical services? I guess they don't count."

The budget scheme defies a state Supreme Court ruling that declared the governor's continued raids on public transit funds illegal. Rather than adhere to the ruling, the governor proposes to eliminate the state sales tax on gas and replace it with an excise tax. "Instead of diverting money from the Public Transportation Account (PTA)," the CTA said in a press release, "the proposal would remove the funding stream that is supposed to flow into the PTA in the first place, effectively eliminating state funding for transit."

And according to the governor's budget document, the result is "an overall decrease in taxes on motorists of about five cents per gallon." So, drivers get a break while transit riders get a slap in the face.

"The governor doesn't seem to be able to make the connection between 21st century priorities...and a suitable 21st century approach to funding transportation needs," said Shaw.


Troubling Silence on Transit in Gov’s State of the State Address

governator.jpgPhoto: Justin Short, Office of the Governor
Despite continued cash flow crunches facing nearly every transit operator in the state, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said absolutely nothing about transportation or fixing transit's woes in his State of the State address today. Transit operators are still bracing for the expected budget proposal this Friday that would thwart the state Supreme Court's ruling declaring the governor's raids on transit funds to fill general fund coffers illegal.

The Governor's proposal would eliminate the sales tax on gasoline and replace it with an excise tax, in the process eliminating an enormous transit funding mechanism and making it cheaper to drive.

In a state where nearly half of all CO2 pollution comes from private cars, and despite national trends toward fewer cars on the road, the governor said nothing about providing affordable and reliable transit options. Instead of supporting proven greener transportation, he quoted from a recent Time Magazine article heralding California's innovative spirit in clean tech energy:

(California) is still a dream state. In fact, the pioneering megastate…is still the cutting edge of the American future -- economically, environmentally, demographically, culturally, and maybe politically. It is the greenest and the most diverse state, the most globalized…when the world is heading in all those directions. It's also an unparalleled engine of innovation, the mecca of high tech, biotech and now clean tech.

"The governor's silence on transit in the State of the State highlights his lack of commitment to creating a robust economy in California that meets the vision of the governor's proclaimed belief in the Green Economy," said Nick Caston of TransForm, a smart growth and transit advocacy organization. "The Governor's rhetoric has in the past ignored his destructive policies taking transit services from our communities."



Advocates Question Public Benefit of Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore

caldecott_tunnel_pbo.jpgPhoto: pbo31
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced bids for the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel earlier this week, claiming that the new $420 million tunnel on State Route 24 through the Oakland hills will reduce congestion for the 160,000 motorists who use it daily and that it will create 6,000 new jobs.

"This project will reduce local traffic congestion while creating nearly 6,000 jobs for California – and is a solid investment in the future of the Bay Area’s transportation infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Of the estimated $420 million needed to complete the job, $11 million would come from the Proposition 1B transportation bond passed in 2006, as well as $197.7 million the state secured through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The balance for the project would be made up of local and regional funding.

The governor adopted the fourth bore project as part of his push to pass Prop 1B and at the time threatened to exempt the project from environmental review after a coalition of bicycle, pedestrian, and public transit advocates sued Caltrans for preparing an inadequate EIS. The exemption would have effectively nullified the lawsuit, so advocates settled with Caltrans last January, in the process securing nearly $6 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements throughout the East Bay.

The settlement also added protections for construction impacts by requiring low
-sulfur fuels to reduce emissions from construction vehicles, reduced light 
pollution from construction activities, and reduced noise impacts on nearby
 residents, according to East Bay Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Robert Raburn, one of the coalition of litigants that sued Caltrans.

Raburn claimed the project benefits motorists over transit riders and argued that the money spent on this project should have gone to increasing transit capacity or adding another tube for BART under the bay.

"The only benefit of this project is for the reverse commute," said Raburn. "The Contra Costa resident that wants to get to the San Francisco Opera in a hurry will be able to blast right through."



California Applies for $4.7 Billion in High-Speed Rail Stimulus Funds

speeding_train.jpgImage: CAHSRA
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that the state has applied for $4.7 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus money for the California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) to start the nation's most ambitious high speed rail project.

In a statement, the governor said, "Recovery Act funding for high-speed rail will go further and create more jobs in California than in any other state in the nation – because we have pledged to match it dollar-for-dollar." Using US DOT job creation numbers, the governor's office estimates that the full $4.7 billion would create 130,000 jobs throughout the state.  The dollar-for-dollar local match referred to in the statement would come from the $9.95 billion Proposition 1A bond voters approved in last year's election. Local, state, and national political representatives are rallying throughout the state today to show support for the ARRA request, with a regional event at San Jose's Diridon station.

According to a CAHSRA fact sheet, the $4.7 billion would be spent accordingly:

  • $980 million for San Francisco to San Jose, including station improvements, grade separations, electrification and safety, and state-of-the-art "positive train control" in an upgraded, shared alignment with Caltrain.
  • $466 million for Merced to Fresno, including right-of-way acquisition, grade-separations, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, earthwork, guideway structures and track.
  • $2.18 billion for Los Angeles to Anaheim, including high-speed train facilities at Los Angeles Union Station, Norwalk Station and the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center; right-of-way acquisition, grade-separations, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, earthwork, guideway structures, tunneling, and track work.
  • $819.5 million for Fresno to Bakersfield, including right-of-way acquisition, grade-separations, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, earthwork, guideway structures, track relocation and new track.
  • $276.5 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work in all system segments including Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire, Los Angeles to Palmdale and Bakersfield, Sacramento to Merced and the Altamont Rail Corridor.

CA Transit Operators Win in Court, But Face Challenge by Governor

A state appellate court in Sacramento ruled two days ago that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can't continue taking money out of the Public Transportation Account (PTA) to help balance the budget, something the governor has done repeatedly while in office, costing state transit operators $1.19 billion in 2007-2008 alone. Many Bay Area transit operators might not have had to cut service, raise fares, nor stage epic battles with their unions if that steady source of funding had been allocated to them.

The lead plaintiff in the case, the California Transit Association (CTA), which consists of transit operators throughout the state, was understandably thrilled with the decision.

“The ruling clearly states that the rip-offs are illegal,” said CTA Executive Director Joshua Shaw. “It says they’ve been illegal since before 2007, and it says that the definition of mass transportation that lawmakers have adopted since then to mask these diversions is illegal.”

The CTA said the decision is a 100 percent vindication of their case and if it stands, transit operators can expect to receive all of the funding from the PTA. A CTA spokesperson said a lower court ruling in 2008 had only been a partial victory that required the state to pay back about 35 percent of the funding it had taken from the PTA.

According to California Department of Finance Deputy Director H.D. Palmer, the governor plans to appeal to the State Supreme Court. "We continue to believe that the transfers that have been done in the past and will be done in the future are legal under the way the rules of the PTA are drafted," he said. When asked if he thought the Supreme Court would hear the case he replied, "absolutely."


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Money or Nothing: Schwarzenegger Joins Call for Infrastructure Investment

Building America's Future (BAF) is a kind of DreamWorks for the infrastructure set.

It's an organization put together by Govs. Ed Rendell (D-PA) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- men strongly committed to the idea that infrastructure investment is of critical importance for a nation's economic health, and should enjoy bipartisan support. A timely mission, given the deteriorating state of the country's infrastructure and economy, and the new threats posed by rising energy costs and global climate change.

The critical nature of the challenge was at front and center in a discussion held yesterday, co-hosted by BAF and the National Governors Association and featuring former legislators Dick Gephardt and Newt Gingrich as guest speakers.

Rendell and Bloomberg opened the session with a typical call to arms -- saying, simply, that we can wait no longer to act and invest boldly. Gephardt and Gingrich, by contrast, focused almost exclusively on the biggest challenge, and in many ways, the only one that matters: money, money, and money.

Both men are convinced that Americans can be persuaded to pay more for infrastructure investments provided that a few conditions are met. Namely, they'd need to be able to see progress (and quickly) and they'd have to feel confident that money wasn't being wasted through incompetence or political chicanery. The hard part is understanding how to get the government to satisfy these conditions.

The two men recommend simple (sounding) steps. The government should use a capital budget apart from the annual budget process (as do corporations), so that investments aren't counted in the same way as normal expenses. Mega-projects should be on the agenda -- surprisingly, to me at least, this came directly from arch-conservative Gingrich.



Where’s Gavin? Likely Campaigning in an Armored SUV

hybrid_suv.jpgMayor Newsom's ride of choice, via josmith94701 on Flickr
Apparently I'm not the only one who got the sneaky suspicion Green Gav doesn't really take transit or ride a bike unless it makes for good publicity. Yet-to-be identified satirists decided to call Mayor Gavin Newsom's bluff on the nonsense assertion he (or his handlers) made to the Chronicle that he occasionally rides Muni incognito when he's not being chauffeured around in a hybrid SUV or driving his ridiculously expensive electric sports car.

A website called Where's Gavin?, borrowing from the Where's Waldo? motif, is offering a free Muni FastPass and a round of drinks to the first person who snaps a photo of Newsom on Muni, though with a caveat that it has to be on a bus, light rail vehicle, or historic streetcar, not a cable car.

We’re looking for Mayor Gavin Newsom.  Have you seen him?  We know he talks a good game on Muni and transit in our fair city, the City and County of San Francisco. But why doesn’t he also walk the walk? His advocacy and leadership for Muni has been noticeably absent even though, deep in his heart, he must know that the truly green choice is non-car transportation.

Fun aside, I wanna know why a press savvy Mayor trying to cast himself as environmentally conscious would make incognito excursions on transit? That doesn't get you any press. New York City Mayor Bloomberg makes a habit of riding the subway and welcomes the press to follow him to get some "everyman billionaire straphanger" shots. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates got some great coverage when he sold his car.

The obvious answer is that Mayor Newsom doesn't ride public transit.  Slumming it on overcrowded buses?  Ew.