MOORLACH UPDATE — Streetcar Control — August 13, 2014

At Monday morning’s regular Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board meeting, every board member present, except for three, voted to assume the costs of constructing and then operating and maintaining the Santa Ana/Garden Grove streetcar system (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Streetcar Feedback — June 21, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Streetcar Warning — June 16, 2014, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Streetcar Desire — June 9, 2014). This puts the liability of this enterprise in your pocketbook. And, without your sales tax dollars, the streetcar line does not pencil out. The Voice of OC covers the discussion in the first piece below.

I’m chomping at the bit to share some reactions, so here goes:

· “We can’t widen freeways forever” – The system is projected to have 3,400 boardings, which translates into 1,700 passengers going to and from. Since it is an alternative to buses on inner city roads, what does that have to do with widening the County’s freeways? There already is a bus service that transports County employees from the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center (trains station) to the Civic Center. Consequently, not one car will be removed from the freeways.

· “Los Angeles County’s efforts to expand their light rail network” – Somehow I don’t envision a streetcar system as a light rail system, such as the Gold Line.

· “There’s nothing as old as buses” – I’m just an amateur historian, but horse drawn street cars date back to the 1820s; while the modern automobile was invented in 1886. And buses are mobile and agile, while streetcars are slow and stuck on a fixed rail.

There, I got that off of my chest. But, I started to wonder. What if one-fifth of the County’s population was frustrated with seeing their tax dollars going to fund the widening of the San Diego Freeway’s bridges, just to insert four toll lanes? What if another one-fifth found the streetcar proposal offensive? What if another one-tenth found the building of a massive train station building along the 57 Freeway (opposite Angel Stadium) as government spending gone wild? And what if another one-tenth decided that the anticipated 30 percent gas tax increase in January of 2015 was ludicrous? That would be more than enough voters to approve a ballot measure that would revoke Measure M2. I just recently became aware of a well-organized effort that is attempting to stop the gas tax increase, see http://www.californiadriversalliance.org/. If you need a recent editorial on this topic, go to http://www.voiceofoc.org/community_editorial_board/article_27d07e98-1f5a-11e4-babf-0019bb2963f4.html. What if a similar effort were organized in the OC? I’m just saying that if enough people were agitated, it would be much easier to stop the flow of funds (sales tax revenues) to OCTA than it would be to remove its Board members, as they are not directly elected to serve on this Board. So I asked about the vulnerability of this critical funding source. The answer: Measure M2 could be revoked with a 50 percent, plus 1, vote. That was Monday’s fun.

For Tuesday’s fun, the OC Register, in the second piece below, provides the debate on the staff recommendation to approve a challenger to serve as the valet parking vendor at John Wayne Airport. The incumbent is putting up a valiant effort to retain the contract. After a spirited discussion, it was decided to have JWA clear up some unanswered concerns regarding the required use of a specific software. So it will be back to the Board next month.

The Daily Pilot, in the third piece below, provides a Letter to the Editor on the recent Grand Jury report on maximizing John Wayne Airport (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Puzzling — August 6, 2014 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Mil-Walkie — July 7, 2014).

Santa Ana Streetcar Project Taken Over by Transit Agency

By NICK GERDA Voice of OC

Orange County’s transportation agency took control over Santa Ana’s streetcar project this week, with two board members continuing to question whether there are more effective ways to spend the project’s $250 million expected cost.

“I think it’s wildly expensive compared to other alternatives that I think are better,” said Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, speaking as an Orange County Transportation Authority director at Monday’s board meeting.

The county could have electric buses that “look almost like a streetcar, but as demand changes” as years go by you can change the route, said Tait, who is one of the most vocal opponents of a similar and also controversial project in Anaheim.

“It’s wildly cheaper. You don’t have the upfront capital costs,” Tait added. “You could have a system almost countywide.”

Meanwhile, the project’s chief supporter, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, said the streetcar would be a major leap forward to accommodate the growing urbanization of Central Orange County.

“We’re basically setting a framework which I think long term is going to make this county – and I mean this entire county – a better county,” said Pulido.

“We can continue to widen freeways,” he added, but “ultimately we can’t widen freeways forever. We just cant.”

OCTA Chairman Shawn Nelson agreed, pointing to Los Angeles County’s efforts to aggressively expand their light rail network, known as Metro.

“You’re ignoring the facts if you think that their implementation of light rail hasn’t been” the most successful implementation of light rail in U.S., said Nelson.

“The future of this county is employers are going to either be on rail – not because I say so – but because” it’s not realistic not to, he added.

Monday’s takeover was approved on a 13-2 vote, with directors Tait and John Moorlach opposing. Director Janet Nguyen abstained, and Director Frank Ury was absent.

“I just see it as an old technology in a high tech world,” said Moorlach, who is also a county supervisors, pointing to issues like pedestrian deaths due to longer stopping distances than buses. “I see it as a boondoggle.”

Supporters on the board disagreed.

“I would argue with Director Moorlach about the old technology, as you call it. There’s nothing as old as buses,” said Director Jeff Lalloway, who is also Irvine’s mayor pro tem.

“I think this project will over time…prove to be something we’ll be proud of as a board,” said Lalloway.

From here, the transit agency will handle the project’s development, implementation, operations and maintenance.

The streetcar remains divided between supporters – including a new wave of businesses credited with making downtown Santa Ana an urban hot spot – and residents and older businesses suspicious that the project is yet another gentrification tool that will ultimately price them out of their homes and commercial spaces.

Nearly all of the five public commenters on Monday supported the project.

“Anything that we can do that can make it really easy and convenient” to reach downtown Santa Ana is “going to be a boon for the community,” said Jon Gothold, a co-owner of DGWB Advertising & Communications on Main Street.

“Santa Ana is at the forefront of being the heart and the soul of Orange County,” said Sean Coolidge, a resident of Santiago Lofts near Santa Ana’s train station.

But Santa Ana resident Steve McGuigen noted that several west Santa Ana residents are concerned about the trolley’s expected prompting of development at the Willowick Golf Course.

Last year, the city of Garden Grove, which owns Willowick, considered selling the course to McWhinney Enterprises, the developers of an upcoming water park hotel in the city.

“The value of the Willowick Golf Course…for a medium density mixed-use development is estimated to be $50 million,” Garden Grove City Manager Matt Fertal wrote in an email to developer Steve Sheldon.

A streetcar stop is planned between the golf course and the Santa Anita neighborhood, and Santa Ana officials have so far been tight-lipped about what type of development could be in store.

“Several of my residents have had concerns about this project,” said McGuigen, president of the Riverview West Neighborhood Association.

“They feel that their area is sort of going to be blighted and the prices driven up,” and that they could be driven out of their homes, he added.

Moorlach, who opposes the streetcar in general, has previously said he wouldn’t be surprised if a back-door deal is in the works for the golf course.

Nguyen noted she’s witnessed such concerns herself, asking whether the city has tried to address the concerns of Westside residents.

But Chairman Shawn Nelson interjected that it wasn’t an appropriate question.

“There may be a multiple of other things going on…but this item is about Project S,” said Nelson, referring to the formal name for transit projects under the Measure M2 sales tax.

Nguyen defended her question, saying it “has to do with the system itself.

“I believe I have every right to ask the city manager…and so I would still like to hear the answer,” said Nguyen.

Regarding blight concerns, Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos replied that the streetcar “actually encourages development.”

As for worries that housing costs would rise near the project, Cavazos committed that “Santa Ana will work with people to make sure we have affordable housing,” without getting into specifics.

To piece together funding for the project, OCTA will now seek federal New Starts funding for the project.

If the Federal Transit Administration signs off, federal grants could cover half of the project’s $250 million projected cost.

OCTA officials are optimistic that the feds will sign off.

Nelson said he met with the federal transit administrator recently in Washington, D.C., who was keenly aware of Santa Ana’s status as one of the densest cities in America.

FTA is “anxious” to be involved in this, said Nelson. “They really understand it and they seem very excited about it.”

From here, OCTA staff plan to prepare a request for proposals for a project management consultant and bring it back to the board for review.

The use of Measure M2 sales tax funds was also approved for the streetcar’s operations and maintenance. It would cover 90 percent of those ongoing costs, until the sales tax expires in 2041. Santa Ana would pick up the other 10 percent.

Moorlach, meanwhile, questioned how taxpayers will react to their M2 transit dollars being used almost exclusively for projects in Central Orange County.

Given Caltrans’ plans to put toll lanes on the 405 freeway after an M2-funded widening, Moorlach suggested that an anti-tax group might run a ballot measure to overturn the tax.

“I’m just worried about the vulnerability” of M2 if “you get enough people frustrated,” Moorlach said.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

Valet parking, car wash prices may increase at JWA

BY NICK GERDA / VOICE OF OC

Prices for valet parking and car washes could soon go up at John Wayne Airport, with Orange County supervisors expected to finalize discussions on a new parking contract next month.

Under the proposed new contract with the county government, which runs the airport, LAZ Parking plans to boost car wash prices, depending on the service, by $5 to $27.

Regarding valet parking, Supervisor Pat Bates said the proposal “spells to me another increase” in prices.

In particular, Bates wondered aloud whether LAZ’s proposal to take less of a cut of the parking revenue than the current vendor – from 36 percent down to 32 percent – would be accompanied by an increase in overall rates to keep profit margins healthy.

Meanwhile LAZ’s president tried to reassure supervisors Tuesday during their public meeting that the parking prices won’t go up. But, supervisors later noted, that commitment has not yet been made in writing.

The issue will come back to supervisors on Sept. 9 for another round of debate and public input.

Tuesday’s debate also highlighted the longtime dominance of LAZ’s competitor, Parking Concepts Inc., in receiving the county government’s parking contracts.

Other potential parking contractors have been discouraged from bidding, Supervisor John Moorlach said, because of concerns that “we don’t look to hire anyone other than the incumbent.”

A Register investigation last year found that PCI was repeatedly awarded millions in county parking contracts “at county beaches, parks, the Civic Center and John Wayne Airport – in at least three cases after county staff recommended another vendor.”

Those contracts brought in more than $10 million in revenue to PCI, the Register found.

The firm’s vice president is Lyle Overby, a longtime county lobbyist who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to county supervisors’ campaigns through his Committee for Improved Public Policy. Overby and his other clients often contributed to supervisors on the same day, the Register found.

PCI has won every major contract at the county for more than a decade, Harth told supervisors.

The company has run the airport valet service since 2001.

Questions were also raised Tuesday about how the county’s contract evaluation panel, which rated LAZ much higher than PCI, ended up giving the exact same scores on various ratings of LAZ.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the probably of that being a coincidence was extremely low.

Mailbag: Grand jury report gets it wrong on JWA

Those of us who are affected by John Wayne Airport’s noise and air pollution thank Supervisor John Moorlach for his recent critical comments regarding an Orange County Grand Jury report on the facility.

Moorlach rightfully stated, in the Orange County Register, that the idea of extending a runway in a heavily populated area showed "a naivete that is almost eye-rolling."

Moorlach is absolutely correct. The grand jury report advocated ways for airport expansion, while ignoring the thousands of residents who endure excessive noise and pollution from an airport that should never have been designated for commercial use. It’s exceedingly close to homes, schools and parks, some mere blocks from a runway, making the airport dangerous as well as overly intrusive.

Why did the grand jury report ignore published scientific reports that detail the harmful effects of noise and air pollution on a population? Planes overhead emit dangerous chemicals, including particulates, which have proven to be particularly harmful to health.

Worse yet, they travel many miles through the air, infecting unsuspecting people far from the original source. Everyone should seriously question a report that excluded the harmful effects of John Wayne Airport on people while advocating ideas for expansion.

Bonnie O’Neil

Newport Beach

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