Los Angeles

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L.A.’s Holy Grail: Transit that Works for Most

When cities add light rail and cut bus service, are they “robbing Peter to pay Paul?”

By Alex Schmidt

It really is true that decent public transport to Angelenos is like the Holy Grail to Indiana Jones — especially on L.A.’s Westside. Looking a bit more deeply into transportation in L.A. makes you check certain assumptions that you may have grown up with. There are, after all, over one million people who ride public transport here every day, and most of that takes place on buses.

L.A. Metro bus stop headed downtown..for now. (Photo: Alex Schmidt)

Now, and when bus cuts were previously threatened L.A. (notably when the Red and Gold lines opened on the east side of town), Metro has been accused of racism. In fact, in 1996, the NAACP and Bus Rider’s Union sued the MTA in federal court and won a consent decree to expand the bus system every year for 10 years. Now that the consent decree has ended, bus lines have been cut regularly. And once again, the Bus Rider’s Union has filed a complaint with the FTA’s Office of Civil Rights. Such investigations take many months, and sometimes as long as a year, so it’s not likely that it will halt the cuts this time around. Continue reading

California Heats Up

A chilly summer suddenly switches to record-breaking heat in much of California.  Is this climate change?

Photo: Craig Miller

It reached 113 degrees in Los Angeles on Monday, a record. And while a string of hot days in California doesn’t signify climate change any more than do record snowstorms in Washington D.C., the summer of 2010 did set quite a few records for high temperatures and heat waves. Although for us here in California, this week notwithstanding, we’ve had a pretty cool summer.

But this week’s heat — especially in Southern California — is a reminder of the ripple effects that could become commonplace if predictions of more frequent and severe heat waves come to pass, with a changing climate. Utilities pleaded with customers to conserve power as temperatures triggered record spikes in the electricity load and subsequent strain on the electrical grid. Continue reading

California Oil Refiners Split on Prop 23

A Shell oil refinery in the aptly named town of Oildale (near Bakersfield) back in 2004. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times today runs down the list of California’s major oil refiners, which are also California’s biggest individual carbon emitters, and finds Tesoro, Valero, and Koch Industries  have not brought along their industry brethren in the fight to stop AB 32 with Proposition 23.

Prop 23 would suspend the 2006 law until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below and stays there for a year, something that’s happened three times in the last four decades, depending on how you count. Continue reading

California Cities Get High Marks for Energy Efficiency

San Francisco

Los Angeles tops a new ranking (PDF) of the 25 U.S. cities with the most energy efficient buildings, released by the Environmental Protection Agency.  With 293 Energy Star-rated buildings encompassing 76 million square feet of space, Los Angeles saves $93.9 million and reduces emissions equal that from electricity use by 34,800 homes, according to the EPA.

Washington, D.C. was ranked second, and San Francisco third.  Two other California cities made the top 25: Sacramento (16th) and San Diego (17th).  According to EPA data, San Francisco has 173 Energy Star buildings (including Hotel Nikko and One Embarcadero Center) that save an estimated $69.4 million in energy costs and reduce emissions equivalent to 24,700 homes. Sacramento and San Diego have 61 and 58, respectively.

As of the end of last year, 9,000 commercial buildings had been awarded Energy Star designation since 1999, representing a combined savings in utility costs of $1.6 billion and a reduction in GHG emissions equal to that of one million homes, according to the EPA.

Buildings that qualify for Energy Star are those that score in the top 25%, based on the EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating System, which compares energy use among facilities of similar types on a scale of 1-100.

Climate Summit Set to Start as L.A. Smolders

The Governors’ Climate Summit convenes Tuesday against the poignant–and salient–backdrop of the multiple wildfires and smoldering ruins ringing Los Angeles.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is hosting the somewhat hastily arranged conference, which is “co-hosted” by the governors of four other U.S. states; Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Governors of four other states have pledged to send delegates. Two of these states, Utah and Washington, are already partners with California in the Western Climate Initiative, which recently rolled out a framework for its regional cap & trade program, set to take effect in 2012.

Governor Schwarzenegger said in September that “all 50″ US governors would be invited. Sacramento-based AP writer Samantha Young documented invitations to at least 36 governors.

Those who made it are joined by representatives from a dozen other nations, including Mexico, Brazil and importantly, China and India. These last two are linchpins in the success of any concerted effort to control emissions of greenhouse gases. Brazil can make a major contribution in the preservation of tropical forests. And Mexico–well, they’re right next door. And annoyingly, GHG emissions tend to flout international borders. It’s been estimated that on certain days, a quarter of L.A.’s air pollution can be traced to China, though today was certainly not one of them. The odor of smoke from surrounding wildfires followed me down I-5 from Castaic, into the L.A. Basin.

Tuesday’s summit agenda is dominated by breakout sessions devoted to specific sectors and topics, such as energy, transportation and cement manufacturing. Discussions will include representatives of diverse interests, from The Nature Conservancy to Wal-Mart. By Wednesday organizers expect delegates to sign a “joint declaration agreeing to pursue collaborative action to reduce greenhouse gas emission and create opportunities to grow green economies.”

I’ll be following the proceedings and blogging daily from them.

Despite a Cool Summer, LA is Getting Hotter

It was looking like a cool summer in Los Angeles until a couple of weeks ago.  Temperatures in downtown LA topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit only once this summer until September 25th.  Since then, according to the National Weather Service’s Climatological Report, the city has seen 4 days above 90, including today. Which is what a group of university and NASA scientists say Southern Californians had better get used to.  

The scientists analyzed 100 years of temperature data collected in downtown Los Angeles  and found that between 1906 and 2006 the average number of extreme heat days – those over 90 degrees – increased from 2 per year to more than 25 per year.  In that time, the average maximum daytime temperature for the city climbed 5 degrees.  Heat waves have also increased, from 2-day events to sweltering stretches that last for 1-2 weeks. The scientists predict that in the coming decades, 10-14 day heat waves will be the norm. 

The bottom line? Even though this summer was a cool one, Southern California is going to get warmer, for longer periods of time. “Our snow pack will be less, our fire seasons will be longer, and unhealthy air alerts will be a summer staple” said study co-author Bill Patzert, a NASA climatologist and oceanographer.

The scientists assert that the main cause of this increase in temperature and heat days in Los Angeles is due the “urban heat island effect,” which makes urban areas 2-10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding rural areas.

Check out a historical temperature chart for downtown Los Angeles and a full report on the study here.