INSIDER REPORT-The distinct smell of natural gas penetrates homes for miles around the leaking Aliso Canyon natural gas “storage facility.” By storage facility we mean an abandoned oil well drilled in 1955 that So Cal Gas decided to fill with pressurized natural gas. But to describe this as a leak is akin to calling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a leak.

Since October, Aliso Canyon has been hemorrhaging 50,000 kgs of natural gas into the air of Porter Ranch. Think BP oil spill with natural gas in a residential neighborhood and you start to understand that this, the worst gas leak in California history is a bonafide un-natural disaster. Lest you think that is hyperbole, renowned environmental advocate Erin Brockovich recently penned an article entitled, “Porter Ranch gas leak a catastrophe not seen since BP oil spill.”

This past week, seven weeks after the leak was confirmed, and after seeing attendance plummet, teachers getting sick, and visits to the nurses office skyrocket, CastleBay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School were ordered closed by the Los Angeles School Board. The 1100 students and staff will now be relocated to schools in Winnetka and Northridge respectively. “Porter Ranch will be a ghost town soon,” said a dejected Ankana Jitsomwung La Salle, whose son Chance is among the children suffering health effects and has been relocated.

As this crisis deepens, the community and elected leaders are beginning to ask, “Where has Gov. Brown been?” His office has been conspicuously silent.

“In this chaotic crisis, one of the most disruptive environmental and community catastrophic events of our time, we need our Governor to speak up, speak out, and bring the full force of his office to help the families impacted,” said LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander. Englander has attended several town hall meetings in the area and the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting on the issue. Each meeting brought overflow crowds to venues that could hold well over 1,000 people. 

As this crisis deepens one has to wonder when this nightmare for Porter Ranch residents will end, and when our Governor, who declared a State of Emergency in San Bernadino due to the terrorist attack, will step up and help the thousands who are waiting to evacuate the poison entering their homes from the Aliso Canyon catastrophe.

 

(Jim Alger is a long-time political activist. He is perhaps best known for spearheading the ‘pushback’ effort that culminated in the MOU Agreement between Los Angeles neighborhood councils and the Department of Water and Power. )

–cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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DEAR FATHER CHRISTMAS-So my friend has asked me to write to you and I have to confess it's been hard to know what to say. Mainly because like most adults I feel preposterous asking anything of you since our time with you is surely done.

Now we get our own presents, control our own fates, take responsibility for our own actions, and live in the world we have created...so it's not for us to turn around and plead for your help with the environment, the migrant crisis, the NHS, education, food banks, human rights, fundamentalism and wars. Though God knows we need all the help we can get with these man-made problems and more.

And it's not that you aren't compassionate and full of joy. You're great. In spite of you being changed into different colors for corporations and being bastardized to represent materialism gone mad - despite probably originating in some season based pagan druid ritual a million thought miles from requests for spontaneously combusting hoverboards... Kidadults cynically pointing this out after having their moment of belief in you are wasting everyone's precious time. Because you are not for them. You are for the children. Children who need some magic in a world where the borders between innocence and responsibility, playful imagination and cold, adult obstacles are continually shrinking.

This is what I'd like to ask you to help with. A little more time for children to be children. Stretch the moment of magic and playfulness. Distract them from the realities of a world gone mad so that they can laugh with their breath rather than sob with their tears. Especially those caring for family members, or suffering illness, hunger or poverty. Especially those hiding in buildings as bombs rain down, or being handed shaking with fear or cold into a boat to escape environmental disaster or war. Please help to light up their worlds with a moment of joy and hope.

When I think about it, you've got it tough this year. And when I really think about it, I'm not sure that asking you for a lightsaber and getting one (not that I ever did by the way) is equitable with controlling the space time continuum and making the good of childhood last a little longer.

But you do inspire wonder and awe amongst those that write you letters and go to sleep hoping there might be a new object in their possession come dawn. You inspire good behaviour and, at least in my memory, some desperate last minute attempts to redeem bad behaviour so as not to be overlooked.

Spare a thought too for those millions who want to write to you but through illiteracy can't. Hear their words and help to give them the time and chance to learn how to read and write so they can better their lives and escape their impoverished beginnings.

I feel a little sorry for you. And I guess I've done exactly what I said I wouldn't: asked you to help with adult problems and solve some of the greatest worries we have for our children. I promise to leave some extra port and mince pies for you!

Lots of love

Benedict x

P.S. Please could I have that lightsaber now?

 

(Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who writes occasionally for the Huffington Post UK, where is piece was originally posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

–cw

 

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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THE UNITED STATES OF NOW--Which political party loves America? Not the United States that once existed, but the flesh-and-blood nation that we all live in now.

The debates we have witnessed - too few and far between for the Democrats, frequent enough for the Republicans to constitute a new reality TV show - have provided an incontestable answer to that question.

The Democrats embrace the United States of Now in all of its raucous diversity.

Democrats are not free of nostalgia. They long for the more economically equal America of decades ago and celebrate liberalism’s heydays during the New Deal and civil rights years.

But Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley all stand up for the rights of a younger America - today’s country - that is less white, more Latino and Asian (and, yes, more Muslim) than was the U.S. of the past. The cultural changes that have reshaped us are welcomed as part of our historical trajectory toward justice and inclusion.

The Republicans, particularly Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, don’t like our country right now. They yearn for the United States of Then. The current version is cast as a fallen nation.

True, the party shut out of the White House always assails the incumbent. But a deeper unease and even rage characterize the response of many in the GOP ranks to what the country has become. This can cross into a loathing that Trump exploits by promising to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and block Muslims from entering the country while dismissing dissent from his program of demographic reconstruction as nothing more than “political correctness.”

I am certain that in their hearts, every candidate in both parties still likes to see us as “a shining city on a hill” and “the last best hope of earth.” Within the GOP, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been especially careful not to abandon the virtue of hope and any confidence in the present. But this makes them stronger as general-election candidates than within their own party.

The stark cross-party contrast complicates any assessment of Saturday’s Democratic debate. As Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley all made clear, each believes their own disputes are minor in light of the chasm that has opened between themselves and the Republicans.

“On our worst day, I think we have a lot more to offer the American people than the right-wing extremists,” Sanders declared at the debate’s end. O’Malley concluded similarly: “When you listened to the Republican debate the other night, you heard a lot of anger and a lot of fear. Well, they can have their anger and they can have their fear, but anger and fear never built America.”

Democratic solidarity was Clinton’s friend. She emerged stronger simply because neither of her foes made a clear case for upending the campaign’s existing order. Her own solid performance will reinforce those who already support her.

But two big quarrels between Clinton and Sanders are important to the Democrats’ future. By pledging to avoid any hike in taxes on those earning less than $250,000 a year, Clinton strengthened herself for her likely fall encounter with the other side. But Sanders deserves credit for speaking a truth progressives will need to face up to (and that social democrats in other countries have already confronted): that the programs liberals support are, in the long run, likely to require more broadly based tax increases.

On foreign policy, Clinton continued to be the more openly interventionist candidate. Here again, Clinton likely positioned herself well for the long run. But Sanders may yet capitalize on his comparative dovishness with the generally peace-minded Democratic caucus electorate in Iowa.

Each also offered revealing one-liners as to whether “corporate America” would love them. Clinton nicely deflected the question by saying, “Everybody should.” But Sanders was unequivocal. “No, they won’t,” he replied with starchy conviction.

Above all, this debate should embarrass the Democratic National Committee for scheduling so few of them, and for shoving some into absurdly inconvenient time slots that confined their audiences to political hobbyists.

Debates are a form of propaganda in the neutral sense of the word: They are occasions for parties to make their respective arguments. Given that the divide between the parties this year is so fundamental, it’s shameful that Democrats did not try to make their case to as many Americans as possible.

If you have faith in your response to anger and fear, you should be ready to bear witness before the largest congregation you can assemble.

(E.J. Dionne’s is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. This article was posted most recently at truthdig.com … an online progressive news and opinion journal edited by Robert Scheer.)

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

 

 

 

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TRUTHDIG-Update: On Friday the Sanders campaign sued the Democratic National Committee, demanding that it restore the campaign’s access to key information on voters. Then, on Saturday, it announced that the committee agreed to do so.  The DNC denied the information to Sanders after learning that his campaign had accessed a master list without authorization.

Bernie Sanders’ strong, progressive and inspirational message is just right for a nation afflicted by poverty and a shrinking middle class. Yet he is having trouble breaking through mass-media disinterest in his candidacy and its obsession with Donald Trump.

“We just came out of the worst economic downturn in the modern history of this country, since the Great Depression,” Sanders said at a forum Sunday in Iowa, a state where Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are competing in a Feb. 1 caucus.

According to RealClearPolitics.com, he went on to say at the Cedar Rapids event: “Millions of people lost their jobs, millions of people lost their homes, and millions of people lost their life savings. Today in America, you have a middle class which is disappearing. You have in some cases … life expectancy going down, massive despair. Is that reflected on television? Is the reality, the pain of America, reflected on television? The struggle people are making?

“Half of people 55 years of age or older have zero savings for retirement. Got that? You’re 57 years old, you got nothing in the bank. How do you think you’re feeling? You’re scared to death. See that on television? CNN? NBC? ABC? … Not so much. We are a country where millions of people are in despair. Black, white, brown. They want to see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media, and in many respects, they are not. And then they say, ‘Who the hell is talking about me? Who knows about my life? Why should I vote? No one cares—no one even knows what’s going on in my life.’ So media becomes an important part of the reality of America, and I think we need some big changes there.”

Not even the televised debates are helping Sanders. He and O’Malley say that the Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule, by staging the events on Saturday nights, deliberately favors front-runner Clinton by reducing viewership—people usually want to go out that night rather than watch a political debate. The Democratic debate broadcast Nov. 14 on CBS was watched by 8.5 million people,  compared with the 18 million who saw Tuesday night’s Republican debate on CNN.

“When will Americans hear from our Party?” O’Malley tweeted. Sanders urged his followers to sign petitions to the committee calling for more debates, saying, “I know, and you know, that the best chance for this country is discussing the issues that matter. Republicans aren’t going to do it, so we need more Democratic debates—more than the four scheduled by the DNC before the Iowa caucuses. And I know that if Secretary Clinton wants more debates, we’ll get them.”

The next debate, the third, is scheduled for Saturday night on ABC.

The lack of television exposure for the Vermont senator makes grass-roots voter contact tremendously important. And Sanders’ effort to make that contact was damaged, at least temporarily, when the Democratic National Committee suspended his campaign’s access to its national voter database. 

The campaign was denied the data after members of its staff accessed a master list of voters, including the Clinton campaign’s, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story.

The list contains names of voters, their demographic and political backgrounds, their computer and media watching patterns and other information used by campaigns to contact and woo potential supporters.

All the Democratic campaigns have access to it, but a computer firewall is supposed to prevent campaigns from obtaining rivals’ data. The firewall apparently broke down while the company managing the master file was installing a software patch.

Without access to the database, Sanders volunteers will be handicapped in contacting voters before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. The Sanders campaign has fired one data staffer, and the DNC has told the campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data until it provides an explanation of what happened as well as assurances that it has destroyed all the Clinton data it obtained, the Post said. At a press conference Friday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver denounced the DNC for what he called a “heavy-handed attempt to undermine our campaign.”

Despite his infrequent television appearances, Sanders is still very much in the race, polls at this early stage indicate. In New Hampshire, the RealClearPolitics average of polls has him ahead of Clinton 48 percent to 43 percent, with O’Malley receiving 4 percent. The latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register shows Clinton leading Sanders 48 percent to 39 percent. As the paper put it, “Clinton is building her lead among Iowa Democrats, but rival Bernie Sanders hasn’t faded.” Clinton leads with 64 percent of older Iowans surveyed, and Sanders is supported by 58 percent of those 45 and younger.

Keep in mind that these polls are too early to be definitive. The furious campaigning after Christmas and New Year’s could change the numbers, just as happened in 2008, when Clinton finished third in the Iowa caucus and then beat the Iowa winner, Barack Obama, in the New Hampshire primary before eventually losing the nomination.

The Iowa survey shows the importance of young voters to the Sanders campaign. I’ve contacted several, using the roster of College Students for Bernie, which has organizations on campuses around the country.

One of the thoughtful email replies I received came from Ben Packer, 20, a computer science major at Dartmouth.

“In general we’ve seen an explosion of self-organized groups for Bernie for every constituency group imaginable, and College Students for Bernie is one of those—part of a general process where people wake up, look around, and connect with others who are doing the same,” he said.

“What makes College Students for Bernie unique is that chapters are developing at the various schools—our job has been to connect the chapters to each other and to the campaign, so that as the campaign develops and moves through each state they are greeted by an already organized small army of volunteers.

“Many chapters are also building coalitions and co-hosting events with other activist and politically oriented groups on campus as well as local non-collegiate groups (unions, etc)—a process we generally encourage. This is the part that excites me the most because of its role in the longevity of the movement, cross issue solidarity, and a broad political education.”

He said students are working on phone banks and doing other chores to identify potential Sanders supporters. “I’m told the college network is collectively making some 8,000 weekly calls,” he said. In New Hampshire, students will contact likely voters and register people at venues such as farmers’ markets.

“As for the issues that resonate with college students, it’s obviously hard for me to generalize—the easy answer is generational economics: we’re in the midst of a student debt crisis, and current students anticipate that burden and fear how it will force them to modify their desired career path—youth underemployment is high, and the overall economic outlook for how we will integrate into the workforce is not positive,” Packer said.

“For many students, and for me, it’s less tangible—Bernie is sort of our last hope for a political system that … we’re jaded and disaffected with, combined with a strong sense of urgency around climate inaction, increasingly visible police brutality and escalating poverty.

“Many of us were taught in middle and high school that America had [an] admirable … functioning, democratic system, and some of us believed it too. Most of us have never really seen it though—with gridlock, legalized corruption, layers of manufactured fakeness and propaganda—the call for a political revolution is the only thing that could keep us from slipping into total political apathy.”

Justen Teguh, public relations director of Tritons for Bernie at the University of California, San Diego, told me of phone-banking and doing other voter contacting work, as well as traveling to Nevada to campaign for Sanders for the Feb. 20 caucus there.

“In regards to our feelings about Bernie, we’re still just as excited for him as we were before,” Teguh said. “Some of us may be even more excited, if that’s at all possible. Many of us have been and are still fed up with the status quo, and Bernie has only gotten better in challenging perceptions that Americans haven’t had challenged in the past. We’re ready to push for a Bernie win in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the Democratic nomination, and eventually, the presidency.”

I talked by phone with Burt Cohen, a former New Hampshire state Senate Democratic leader who now hosts the twice-weekly podcast “Keeping Democracy Alive.” 

“He has young people,” Cohen, a veteran of New Hampshire Democratic politics, said of Sanders.

“I’ve never seen young people [so] turned on.” Cohen also noted that New Hampshire’s largest union, the 11,000 member New Hampshire branch of the Service Employees International Union, has endorsed Sanders, who is talking of victory in the general election. “If we can win in Iowa, and if we can win in New Hampshire, we have a real path toward victory, to pulling off one of the major political upsets in the history of our country,” Sanders said recently at a forum in New Hampshire, NationalJournal.com reported.

If Sanders accomplishes that, it truly will be an upset for a man written off by the high priests of media and subjected to what amounts to a television blackout. He’ll be entitled to a hearty last laugh.

 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com) Photo: AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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ALPERN ON CHRISTMAS--Merry Christmas, everybody!  Not sure which Christmas you want to celebrate--the home-for-the-holidays Christmas, the let's-take-some-time-off Christmas, the let's-get-some-presents-and-more-stuff Christmas, or the ain't-Santa-cute Christmas, but Merry Christmas!  And that "Christ" fellow ... well, I'm not sure where he figures into Christmas in our enlightened and open-minded age, but perhaps He really should figure in somewhere ... because isn't that where the name "Christmas" comes from?

And I don't mean "Ho, Ho, Ho!" as in Santa, I mean "He, He, He" as in the Trinity.  Because THAT is what Christmas is celebrating:  we don't know when Jesus of Nazareth was born, and there are certainly pagan and other reasons why the winter solstice was chosen as the time to celebrate Christmas (the shortest day, the longest night, but yet that is when we cherish the fact that God is with us).  

Yet, the fact remains, that there WAS a Jesus of Nazareth, and born at a rather critical time in our world history.  Furthermore, with God having lived and died as a human being, we never had to wonder if we were alone, or if God had forgotten us and our often-miserable existence.

Yes, I am a Jew, and I've always loved the lights and spiritual warmth of Christmas, as my "lonsman" Ben Stein so eloquently and repeatedly likes to state every year.  I had my beliefs in Judaism, and my opinions of the Christian religion, cemented in college, when after years of my own studies I had some excellent Humanities courses that confirmed and supported my long-held religious views.

And I'll keep those private beliefs private, but I will without hesitation state that ours is a Christian nation--no matter what creepy individual wants to deny that.  Or at least it's a nation that believes in God (with democratic ideals placed in the Constitution as a moral imperative from God), but with Christian overtones.

Even President Lincoln, who wasn't into formal religion, promoted Thanksgiving as a statement of humanity towards God--and when he did good, he felt good, and when he did bad, he felt bad (which he believed came from God).  Feel free to look up this informally but undeniably religious figure in our nation's history.

And feel free to look up just how wonderful and "tolerant" and livable those nations are who have diminished and "gotten past" their Christian roots in the West, and how well-treated Christians, Jews and other religions are in either secular or other Eastern nations.

Yet now we recognize Jesus less than ever in our "modern, tolerant society" and are much more likely to decry and diminish those who still are "primitive" enough to worship Christ as the Son of God.  

Maybe we should even consider getting rid of the Christmas holiday if it means so little to so many.

But praising and singing about Santa?  Well, of course!  Perhaps it's Santa who we can cherish on our days off, instead of Jesus.

I mean, Santa Claus is coming to town--and isn't Santa the one that Christmas is all about?  

Certainly, business offices and public venues have so sanitized their songs of any mention of God, Christ or anything else that a stranger would conclude that the divine Trinity is Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty...and not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Good-bye "Silent Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy", and hello "It's Cold Outside" and "Santa, Baby".

Good-bye, Three Wise Men and hello Master Card, Visa, and American Express with respect to gift-giving that really matters.

And the "echo" of those proclaiming "what would Jesus do?"... while decrying "those Christians"?

And the "echo" of those proclaiming love and tolerance and an escape from religion...while themselves having grown up with religion (including "A Christmas Carol" that blended the supernatural with the moral imperative of being kind and charitable)?

And finally, the "echo" of believing in Saint Nick with believing in a higher Power who watches over us, and who ultimately rewards us (perhaps not with gifts that are tangible, or purchasable, but with gifts, nevertheless)?

One cannot help but wonder what will happen when those echoes subside, and what our society will look like when we've moved past God and Christ, and how Jews, Buddhists, and other tolerant religions will be treated once we have sufficiently diminished the Christian cultural background that once made us the kindest and most giving nation on the planet.

Until then, however, as a tolerant American and a tolerant Jew, let me stick in one more old-fashioned MERRY CHRISTMAS, and may God shine over us all during this Holiday Season.

 

(Kenneth Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist with offices and clinics serving patients from West Los Angeles to Temecula.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  Alpern@MarVista.org.   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

 


 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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NO SUBSTITUTE FOR WALKABLE STREETS--At the center of UCLA’s campus, there’s a banner advertising some of the university’s newest groundbreaking research. It features the outline of a small vehicle and reads, “The 405 is a joyride … in a driverless car.”

The 405 is the main freeway serving the west side of Los Angeles County, and along with earthquakes, humidity and natural aging, it’s the stuff of Angelenos’ nightmares. The federal government has cited the highway, with its average daily traffic of 374,000 vehicles, as the nation’s single busiest roadway. LA sunk five years and more than $1 billion into a project to widen its right-of-way through a congested mountain pass. (Officials called the temporary closure of the roadway “Carmageddon.”) The city has spent several times that amount expanding its mass transit system, with the promise that light rail and bus-only lanes would alleviate some of the region’s famous traffic jams. If anything, the traffic has gotten worse.

As for driverless cars, they’re likely to be a fixture of our roads by the end of this decade. Aided by a scanning technology called “lidar,” Google started testing vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, Tesla’s Autopilot program is now in beta and conventional carmakers such as Nissan and Ford aren’t far behind. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimates that by 2040, up to 75 percent of cars on the road will be autonomous. Could this be the solution to LA’s notorious traffic?

Probably not. Since I moved here three months ago to study urban planning, I’ve been engaged in the ultimate class project: living in LA without a car. Public transit junkies often imagine that with the right combination of incentives and policies, any city can be made into Manhattan. All around the LA area, heroic efforts are being made to reduce auto dependence and improve people’s ability to get around by foot, bike and public transit. But the wide streets, ample parking and huge tracts of single-family houses don’t lie: LA’s urban form is almost entirely built to move automobile traffic as quickly as possible.

The urban planner Fred Kent famously says, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” Driverless cars are an exciting development, but they are still cars. They’re very much in their infancy, and much of the reporting on them has centered on technology and design. In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Dream Life of Driverless Cars,” two passengers gaze upon London from the computer’s-eye view of a Honda CR-V, watching as “workers setting out for a lunchtime stroll become spectral silhouettes” and “glass towers unravel into the sky like smoke.” These are suggestive images, full of intrigue and possibility. Still, driverless cars aren’t just a technological marvel; they raise serious urban planning questions.

In terms of safety and parking, they are likely to be a force for good. Perhaps we’ve become numb to the damage because it happens so often, but it’s worth remembering that cars are deadly weapons that we entrust to almost everybody, whatever their competence or emotional stability. Starting this Halloween in New York City, 13 pedestrians were killed by drivers in as many days — including young Bronx trick-or-treaters standing on the sidewalk. In 2013, drivers in Mexico City killed 491 pedestrians. Everyone has had a close brush with a driver who is texting, eating, applying mascara or falling asleep at the wheel. By contrast, autonomous vehicles are so cautious that they often have trouble crossing intersections, and recently one got pulled over by police for driving too slowly.

More than half a century ago, we gave for-profit car companies the opportunity to remake American cityscapes to their liking. It was a disaster.

As for parking: The average car is in active use for 5 percent of the day. The massive space required to store thousands of idle vehicles for the remaining 95 percent has been a disaster for urban land use. In the post-World War II period, U.S. cities including LA tore out the hearts of their downtowns — places that by their nature benefit from high density — and have given away immensely valuable urban land, effectively as a gift to suburban drivers, ever since. On top of that, drivers “cruising” for parking (circling city blocks looking for a cheap spot) can increase congestion by as much as 30 percent. Most American cities have parking minimums built into law, significantly increasing the cost of housing construction. Autonomous cars won’t simply vanish into thin air when we’re done using them, but unlike cars today, they will be able to relocate themselves away from the most valuable plots of urban land, freeing up space for new housing, businesses and parks.

All this portends a brighter future for LA and similar cities. But even today, the truth is that my car-free lifestyle is very doable — sometimes even convenient. LA has a robust bus system that I use to commute to UCLA, and so far I’ve found it to be reliable (LA’s bus and train networks combine for about 1.5 million weekday boardings, third in the nation after New York and Chicago). My home in the Palms neighborhood is a 15-minute walk from a light rail stop that takes me to Downtown LA, which has recently come into its own as a cultural and culinary hotspot. Almost everything I need is within biking distance of my apartment, and when I have to, I can rely on the generosity of friends with cars.

However, my commute is easy only because the daily itinerary of a childless graduate student is fairly simple, and because I can afford to live in a neighborhood that’s on a direct bus line to campus. I can use my phone to track bus arrivals in real time, or call a Lyft if I’m in a rush — but these apps that have surely saved me hours of wasted time are unavailable to those who can’t afford a smartphone. Socially, I’m surrounded by fellow planning students who love walking, biking and transit — but when I leave school, I’m reminded very quickly that the stigma against public transit and its users remains strong in L.A.

Driverless cars, promising as they are, cannot change a simple spatial reality: Single-occupancy private vehicles are not an efficient way to move people around an urban area that, despite its reputation, is by some measures the country’s densest. Nor should any of us be rushing to cede control of urban transportation systems to billion-dollar profit-driven companies. Take Uber: The “car-sharing” company provides a popular and often valuable service, but its poor labor record and transparent desire to replace public transit should give pause to anyone who values the “public” part of that phrase.  

More than half a century ago, we gave for-profit car companies the opportunity to remake American cityscapes to their liking. It was a disaster. When the time comes, I’ll be excited to explore Los Angeles in an autonomous vehicle. But I’m more excited for the day I can traverse the whole of the city by bus, train or bike without having to set foot in a car at all.

(Jordan Fraade is pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. His writing on urban policy issues has been featured by Next City, Gothamist, The Baffler and CityLab. This piece was posted first at Aljazeera .

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

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