Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MTA Fares Go Up, Mayor Stung? A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing...

I have included excerpts of the LA Times coverage below, but I recommend you read the whole article if you are following the case of the rising bus fare in LA. Last week the MTA approved significant increases to the existing fare structure, but backed off it's initial proposal. On May 18th the Mayor proposed a compromise that last week was shot down by the MTA. As a result, the cost of an MTA day pass will double by 2009.

I think the Mayor played this one to his advantage. After all it’s his MTA Board that proposed the initial fare hikes. Their proposal was obviously too extreme, the Mayor then came in and offered to broker a compromise position and in the end the MTA got what they wanted – fare hikes – that look more reasonable than the outrageous initial proposal, the Mayor got to get in the middle and stand in the sunshine and now the BRU can’t blame the Mayor because he really tried to help. The LA Times thinks this was a stinging defeat, I disagree completely. I think it was successful for the mayor, he got some of the fare hikes he needs to expand his other public transit priority (rail service) and he got some street cred from the BRU by fighting the MTA. It might look like a stinging defeat, but there was more than one wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems again that the only people who lose out are the MTA's riders. Is the new compromise fare hike racist? It certainly disproportionately will affect the very young, the very old, and many people of color. Not the influence-peddlers of LA politics.

Los Angeles County transit leaders Thursday approved the first across-the-board fare increase in more than a decade, despite emotional testimony from hundreds of bus riders who said they could not afford steep price hikes.
The new fares — which apply to both bus and rail service — are less than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's staff had sought but will still increase the amount riders pay significantly over the next two years. The cost of the monthly pass will gradually rise from $52 to $75 by July 1, 2009. The popular day pass will rise from $3 to $6 over the same period.
The decision by the MTA's Board of Directors marks a stinging defeat for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had tried to broker a compromise that would have raised most fares only 5% a year. But the board roundly rejected the mayor's proposal, saying it would leave the agency with a deep operating deficit and would delay future rail projects.
"When you look at so many of them who make the minimum wage, who make less than the poverty level, clearly they are not going to be able to afford it," Villaraigosa said afterward.
The 9-4 vote marks a pivotal moment for mass transit in Los Angeles. The MTA had been unable to significantly raise fares for the last decade because of a federal consent decree established after bus riders and civil rights groups sued the agency in a bid to improve bus service.

The MTA's original proposal called for the daily cash fare to rise to $2 per ride from $1.25 and the monthly pass to $120 from $52 over the next two years.
But the 13-member board — which includes the mayor, all five county supervisors and other officials — quickly agreed that the proposal was draconian. The majority also agreed, however, that the mayor's plan was unworkable because it would not raise enough revenue and called for more borrowing to buy buses. The mayor's proposal was rejected on an 8-5 vote.
Instead, Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed the alternative that won approval. The new fare schedule is more modest, but it still packs a punch. The single-ride cash fare will rise the least, from $1.25 to $1.50 over the next two years. But most riders use some form of a pass, which will see bigger increases. The costs of a monthly pass will rise 44%, and the cost of the daily pass will double. The monthly pass for senior citizens will rise from $12 to $17 — a 42% increase but a far cry from the 400% jump (to $60) the MTA originally proposed. The first fare increase takes effect July 1.

Villaraigosa was hoping to bring the board together on a compromise that would soften the blow for riders. Instead, he drew strong criticism from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who called the mayor's stance disingenuous. During a heated exchange, Yaroslavsky said Villaraigosa had indicated that he would support a fare increase in a closed session last summer after the MTA board agreed to a new contract with bus drivers and mechanics.
A visibly angry Villaraigosa shot back, accusing Yaroslavsky of mischaracterizing private conversations and then lashing out at the supervisor for sitting in his office while the mayor was in Sacramento on Wednesday trying to get more transportation funding. Villaraigosa then said Yaroslavsky didn't have the courage to propose his own fare increases, calling him a "sheep who walks in wolf's clothing."
The vote came at the end of five hours of comments from hundreds of bus riders who packed the MTA boardroom, overflowing into four other rooms at the towering downtown headquarters. The turnout, estimated by police at 1,500, was so large that at one point the building's lobby was closed down by fire officials citing potential danger.

The protests were tinged with charges of racism on the part of the MTA board because the vast majority of riders are Latino and black. Some critics argue that the MTA favors more rail systems aimed at getting commuters out of their cars at the expense of those solely dependent on buses for transportation. An MTA survey showed that the median household income of rail riders is $22,000 a year, compared with $12,000 for bus riders.
There were a few voices in support of the fare hikes.

Dozens of members of the Bus Riders Union began chanting, "Fight transit racism — and see you in court!" and "Thanks Villaraigosa, you gave a good fight."


I know this is supposed to be a blog about downtown LA and as a result I've steered clear of national politics. But now national politics has come to me so a moment to rant.Today the Clinton campaign is expected to announce Villaraigosa's endorsment.

First I think it's still unnecessarily early for national endorsements.

Second, what is AV doing endorsing HC? If we want a President who supports unions (as this mayor does, remember where he comes from) and a leader who is concerned with changing the status quo in this country (ending war in Iraq?) I cannot for the life of me understand how HC gets his vote - she has not been a champion of labor, particularly during her tenure as a Wal-Mart board member nor of ending the war.

And finally, both Obama and Edwards both seem like such BETTER options.

Clinton to get Villaraigosa's Endorsement
Mayor's backing today, no surprise, may help her reach Latino and union voters.
By Duke Helfand &Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writers, May 30, 2007

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton will announce the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today, a development that could help the New York senator expand her reach among Latino and union voters in many parts of the country.

The expected announcement follows months of political courtship on both coasts. Clinton has met with Villaraigosa several times in Los Angeles and Washington and has wooed him more aggressively than any other top Democratic candidate. Villaraigosa is California's most recognizable Latino political figure and a rising Democratic star.

He said he chose Clinton because she stood out among a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How can you be opposed . . .

I was saddened to learn that yesterday a bill to create stricter penalties for hospitals that 'dump' homeless patients failed in the state Senate. Two moderate Democrats, Lou Correa of Orange County and Ron Calderon of East LA, are being blamed for the bills demise.

You can read the full story here: Capitol Weekly.

Downtown's own Senator Cedillo sponsored the legislation as a response to some horrific stories of Kaiser and some other hospitals that have 'dropped off' homeless patients onto the curb in various parts of Skid Row. The LA Times has done a decent job of covering the issue. I have been following this subject for a while and I was glad to see another blogger, A View from a Loft, have a short post about it yesterday.

For the folks who live Downtown this should be a major issue. Patient dumping must be the worse manifestation of greed that one can imagine. From a neighborhood perspective, not only does it add to Downtown's homeless population, but it also adds severely ill folks to the streets.

The whole story is sad and depressing. It is also sad and depressing that the Democrats, the party who supposedly stands for the poor and the needy, would sell out the most vulnerable in our City.

Thank you Senator Cedillo for this necessary legislation!
Shame on the others that did not see the benefit of helping the most poor and vulernable.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Parks, Parks, Parks

Last week I blogged about the construction project that was unveiled for the 5th and Hill neighborhood. The project is going to be a large, large construction project -- the tallest residential building west of Chicago.

I hear from some folks that they would like to get a deal. A deal to get some more stuff for the community.
Some are talking about trying to get the developers to spruce up Pershing Square. Well, maybe not spruce it up.

Pershing Square could be a beautiful spot. It would be great to get some of those disgusting structures out and get a better green space for folks to hang out. Let's start by taking out the ridiculous geometric shapes, and the unnecessary concrete.

Chaplin's Haunt

A friend of mine with a vast knowledge of the structures of Downtown conducted one of his sought after tours this weekend. Me and 6 friends headed out on a Sunday morn to listen into his guided walk -- which is part labor history of downtown and part architectural history.

The highlight of the trip was the Alexandria Hotel. If you haven't read up on the Alexandria, you should. The history of the place is fascinating. In addition to once being the social center of high society on the West coast, the Alexandria is also where Chaplin and his friends would often congregate. Chaplin announced the creation of United Artists Agency in the lobby.

On Sunday, we were able to check out the interior of the Hotel. The security guard was fabulous and welcomed us into the hotel and was even willing to show us around the place. The guard was proud to offer up that Brad Pitt was there the day before in one of the ballrooms to film a movie.

The ballrooms at the Alexandria are amazing. Stained glass, original hardwood floors, ornate chandeliers. Wow.

I was at the Alexandria back in October for their Halloween Haunted House, which was fun, but in such a dark spot one could not make out the beauty of the rooms.

If you can, make a trek to Alexandria. Its cool.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rocket Pizza

We've been to Rocket Pizza twice now and both times I've been happy. The first time we ordered a meatball sub and a pasta dish. The meatball sub was excellent and we had it to go. Altogether it was $16 and we were both happy.

Last night we had a pepperoni pizza and the eggplant parmesan. The pizza was delicious and the eggplant was very good. The service is friendly and fast. Including drinks + tip our meal was $26.

The atmosphere is cozy, squishy booths and low lighting there are flat screen tv's above most of the booths. I could live without them, but I might be the minority, it seems like more and more restaurants and bars feel the need to have them.

Rocket Pizza is well cooked, reasonably priced food. My date said that he'd like to see more stuff on the menu, especially pasta but my view is some restaurants try to make everything and they make nothing well. I'll take a shorter menu and good food any day.

And they expanded their hours which is smart because the downtown crowd is a late night crowd:
11:30 am - 10:00 pm Monday-Thursday
11:30am - Midnight Friday
Noon - Midnight Saturday
Noon - 10:00 pm Sunday

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Warung Cafe...

I wanted to write this as a plea to the owners/management of the Warung Cafe on 4th & Main. We recently ate here and I really want to like it and I'd love to have another great restaurant in the neighborhood.

We ordered a bunch of dishes because Warung is a tapas style pan-asian restaurant. Not a bad idea as you get to try lots of different options and a good option for a group. But it only works if the food is great.

The mongolian beef was delicious, as were the crispy chicken potstickers.
The cold peanut noodle salad was bland, kind of like cold ramen noodles with a drizzling of peanut sauce. Not very exciting.

We also ordered tofu green curry. The green curry sauce was fine but it had big chunks of raw tofu that had no flavor and seemed to have been tossed in at the last minute.

Also the organic tofu seaweed salad was bad It had about a cup of dried black shredded seaweed on top of traditional salad greens. It just tasted terrible. It was as if there was no thought behind the recipe or the style, at best sort of thrown together.

I ordered green tea. I got a cup of hot water with a bigelow tea bag. C'mon, if you're trying to be a stylish asian restaurant, how about a nice little tea pot, with real green tea, a nice tea cup, make an effort I say.

We ended up spending about $55 for dinner. For what we got, I felt I paid too much. We are downtown locals, we go out to eat and we eat at the other local restaurants a couple of times a week. Warung has to do better in my opinion.

The ambience is nice, great light fixtures, a good vibe, the music was nice and the service was friendly and quick. It's just the food that needs a little help. I offer this as constructive criticism for what could be a great option. I am reluctant to go again though and that's a bad sign for a restaurant still struggling for its footing.

Celebrity Crime Sighting

Living in LA is always more interesting when you have a good old fashioned celebrity sighting. Today I was at the whole foods on 3rd when my co-worker pointed out Scott Speedman walking past us hurriedly with a grocery basket. She noted that he looked a little bedraggled/homeless. We were keeping an eye out for him as we stood in line, we watched him walk through the prepared food section, put on his sunglasses, grab a pomegranate juice, walk back out through the front door and put the basket back in the rack.

Wait, did he just walk out the door without paying for his juice?
We caught Speedman, speed-shoplifting.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Big, Big Building in the Works

Whoa! Today the City unveiled a plan to build the largest residential building west of Chicago.

The project, if completed, would add a remarkable image to our skyline. The towers are planned for 5th and Olive and will look out onto Pershing Square. That may not be much of a view now, but I am sure they will spruce up the park should the project get through.

I love high density housing in Downtown. Our very own Jan Perry has already expressed her support for the project. I can only hope that the folks in Silly Hall have gotten something out of the developer -- bike lanes and green space would be nice.

Save your time, and your money

About a year ago, I was surprised to arrive home and find a man hanging from a crane that was perched atop my building. You may remember this time. They were filming the movie Spiderman 3. The police blocked off all around 4th and Main, and 5th and Spring, and various other thoroughfares throughout downtown.

I went to see Spiderman 3 this weekend. It was awful. Watching the man as he was suspended from the roof of my building was much more thrilling than sitting through the 2 + hours at the Arclight.

The movie was unbelievably bad. I am serious when I say the highlight of the film was seeing my building, and other areas of Downtown on the screen. But there are many more movies that have footage of Downtown that are superior to this movie. It was really bad.

Save your time and money -- wait for the DVD.

I believe that if Downtown residents are going to be inconvenienced in the future for filming, we should do some quality control on the movies they are shooting down here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Watch Your Dog!

For those that may belong to the newdowntown group, you probably have gotten some messages about a man named Joe who was 'cuffed and stuffed' by the LAPD because two men claimed that he had stolen their dog.

I wanted to post about this for a few reasons.

First, to make sure that others are aware of the problem. As a new dog owner I want to make sure that others don't have the same problem that Joe has had.

Second, I think this is an important issue because of the police behavior. LAPD has had countless problems over the past years. Just the other day you may have read about the questionable police conduct during the immigration marches. Based on Joe's testimony, I think we have yet another tale of inappropriate, demeaning and unnecessarily aggressive police behavior.

Lastly, for those of you that know Joe, he is the nicest sweetest man and he does not deserve this kind of behavior. His dog Ruby is also sweet. I hope the community will support him if he needs our help.

Here is Joe's story:

Unfortunately, I was a victim of the two Hispanic guys yesterday (4-25). I was returning home from a dog walk around 4:30 pm with my bull terrier Ruby when they confronted me on the street at 6th and Main and tried to take Ruby away from me.

A police car stopped and the men told the police I took Ruby from their car. The police believed the men! One cop asked me how old Ruby is. I told him 9 years old. He told me that Ruby is two years old. "That is not your dog," one cop told me. "You have to return their dog."

I was pushed against the parking lot fence and handcuffed. Then I was placed in a police car while Ruby remained with the two men.The officers were abusive. They asked me if I was under the influence of medication and if I wanted a white dog just like one I had when I was little. I finally convinced them (after much begging) to take me to the San Fernando Building to establish the fact that Ruby is mine. Another cop car arrived and stayed with the men and my dog. One cop said "coo coo" the whole two block trip home. They also referred to the cardboard box they thought I lived in.
Things changed when I reached home. The building security guard, neighbors, the management crew, business owners (including Nancy-Jean) and Tom Gilmore and Trish Keefer all vouched for me and Ruby. The other cops brought the two men and Ruby to the building and everyone identified her. A third cop car later arrived. The handcuffs were finally removed and Ruby was returned to me
Despite all of that, though, I still had to take the two cops to my unit to show them proof that I live with a dog. Then later they returned to take pictures of Ruby and me together. I have filed a complaint against the two cops and I am going to meet with them and the head of Central Division on Monday afternoon. I was abused by those two cops and I will do my best to make them accountable for their bad behavior....and the two men? They were turned loose and could still possibly be around the area. Other dog walkers should wisely take Nancy-Jean's warning to heart.