As I conclude my first year in the Assembly, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to represent you. Together we already have achieved significant accomplishments--thanks to the input of many of you, for example, the Governor signed the Gun Crime Identification Act, a bill of such national importance that the New York Times editorialized in favor of it, and at least two federal legislators (Sen. Kennedy and Congressman Becerra) are drafting legislation modeled on this groundbreaking law. There were many important local accomplishments too, from forging a new agreement between the California Transportation Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department on brush clearance in high fire danger areas, to fighting to secure more than $700 million to complete the carpool lane on the 405 Freeway.
My team and I welcome your feedback, comments or requests for additional information. As always, please contact my office at 310-285-5490 or 818-902-0521 whenever we may be of assistance.
Assemblymember, 42nd District
One of my most important responsibilities is to chair the Assembly's Budget Subcommittee on Transportation. In the next legislative session I will introduce several bills aimed at enabling local regions like Los Angeles to raise the money necessary to build the transportation systems we need. I also play a role on many local projects. Below is a brief status report on some of the transportation projects and issues of greatest significance to our region.
405 Sepulveda Pass HOV Lane Project
The environmental review process for this project is drawing to a close. Caltrans anticipates signing off on the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) in late January. The Federal Highway Administration will have input as well. Once the FEIR is signed and a Record of Decision is recorded, it will be circulated to the public. Caltrans has read and indexed hundreds of comments from concerned residents on both sides of the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass. My office has organized many meetings among homeowners associations, Caltrans and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation administration and staff, to ensure that Caltrans understands your concerns about possible impacts of the Draft EIR's proposed alternatives on your neighborhoods. I am optimisitc that Caltrans is taking this input seriously as it revises its design and engineering plans.
Expo Line Phase 1
The Expo Line Construction Authority began construction of this light rail line in August of 2007; the project is to run from downtown to Culver City parallel to the Santa Monica (10) Freeway along the Exposition Blvd. right-of-way. It is scheduled to open in the summer of 2010. The California Transportation Commission allocated full funding for completion of this phase of this electric train project in September. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight grade crossing applications have been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. The Farmdale Ave. crossing at Dorsey High School was the subject of a hearing in early November, at which community members expressed concerns for the safety of students at elementary and high schools along the Exposition Blvd. alignment, as well as the environmental impacts on the surrounding community. The results of that hearing are pending. While this project is not in my district, I believe it will benefit the entire Westside. Meanwhile, because of rapidly rising construction costs, Expo has gone to the Metro Board of Directors and obtained additional funding from the County, on the condition that monthly reports be made to the Board, which wants to ensure oversight of the project's expenditures.
Expo Line Phase 2
The scoping process for this project, which is to run from Culver City to Santa Monica, is currently in progress. During this stage of the environmental review, members of the public are vetting various alternatives for the alignment and other issues. A Draft EIR is due for public comment in Winter 2008. Then there will be meetings between the Construction Authority staff and the community during the planning process. The main issues are funding and alignment choices. Because of the poor prognosis for state transportation funding, Metro will have to pursue a range of financing methods to get the Exposition Line to Santa Monica.
Metro Westside Extension Project
The potential to extend the subway from downtown to Santa Monica has received more attention recently because of Congressman Henry Waxman's legislation removing restrictions on tunneling through the Fairfax area, where methane gas may be found. Scientists recently confirmed that the state of technology is such that digging in this area can be done safely. The Westside project is in the scoping phase, meaning that various alternatives for mode (rail, light rail, bus rapid transit) and alignment are being reviewed. The City of Beverly Hills' Mass Transit Committee issued a report in 2007 in which the committee unanimously recommended to the Beverly Hills City Council that the subway be extended from its current location at Wilshire and Western down Wilshire through Beverly Hills, and continuing with stops at Century City and Westwood. Others have proposed an alignment that would go from the Hollywood/Highland subway station down Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood to Wilshire, then westward from there. Obviously, funding (estimated at $5 billion for a project that would go to Santa Monica), presents a serious obstacle. As stated, I am exploring creative ways to fund such a project in the current economic climate. I invite you to contact me or Ellen Isaacs of my staff with your input on any facet of this project.
Westside Transportation Partners (WTP)
WTP is a coalition of businesses on the Westside who see the potential economic and practical benefits of better traffic circulation on the Westside, and want to find ways to contribute to reducing congestion. Through WTP, companies like Trammel Crow, Westfield Shopping Centers and Fox Studios, among others, are looking at creative ways to move employees and products in and through the city, such as offering shuttle and carpool matching services, flex time for employees, etc. WTP is incorporating as a non-profit that will seek to work with elected officials and city and state agencies as well as engage members to improve goods and people movement on the Westside. For more information on the group, contact Jason Weiner at 310-398-0953.
Trade Corridors Improvement Fund (TCIF)
In late November I testified before the California Transportation Commission (CTC) in Sacramento to advocate that our region receive our fair share of $2 billion of voter-approved bond money to improve what is known as trade corridor mobility. I also joined in a letter with numerous colleagues to the same effect, available online: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a42/pdf/Trade_Improvement_Corridors.pdf
In short, last year voters approved this funding as part of a comprehensive transportation bond. The purpose of this allocation is to improve the flow of goods and reduce air pollution in regions that serve as major trade corridors. I believe our region, which includes the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, should get the lion's share of this funding. To summarize briefly, nearly 90% of the State's imports and 76% of the States exports come through these ports. These containerized goods travel throughout California and the country on diesel trucks and diesel-powered trains. Because of the traffic congestion and health effects of the concentration of trucks and trains in and near the ports, a coalition of transportation agencies from five Southern California counties, as well as the entire Southern California legislative delegation sought 85% of the pool of funds to mitigate the impacts on surrounding communities. We were willing to compromise at 75% of the available funds. However, the CTC only gave our region 60% of the funds. Nevertheless, in the upcoming legislative session, the CTC's recommendations will have to come through the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Transportation and Information Technology, which I chair, and they will be subject to scrutiny there.
I also support federal funding for bus-only lanes on major Los Angeles thoroughfares. You can read my letter supporting Los Angeles County Metro's application for federal funding for bus-only lanes on Wilshire, Sepulveda and Van Nuys Boulevards at: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a42/pdf/FTA.pdf
Stream restoration project along the Los Angeles River, adjacent to the Studio City Golf and Tennis Club, received Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Grant
At the September meeting of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) my staff advocated in favor of a $20,000 grant to Community Conservancy International (CCI). The SMMC awarded this grant, which will help CCI conduct a project feasibility study of a stream restoration project along the Los Angeles River, adjacent to the Studio City Golf and Tennis Club.
This 16-acre property is the last remaining open space in Studio City, and the largest undeveloped property left along the Los Angeles River. I have long supported preserving this site as a public space, bringing the community together with the river in a positive way. The CCI's study will help to develop river and community-friendly options for consideration as part of any development plan.
I thank the SMMC for awarding this grant, and will continue to advocate on behalf of responsible use of this Valley treasure.
Extraordinary Legislative Session on Water
The following article was originally published in the Beverly Hills Courier, and outlines the principles I bring to the debate on how to best meet the current and future water needs of California.
We have to tackle California's water crisis now. Here in Beverly Hills, taps flow freely, and lawns are so green that you might not detect that we face any water issues at all. But reality is about to hit home. Our state is in midst of a prolonged drought. And a federal judge recently mandated a 30% cut in flows from the Sacramento Delta, an important source of Southern California's water supply.
Recognizing the need for action, Governor Schwarzenegger has convened an extraordinary legislative session focused on water. The Speaker of the Assembly assigned me to serve on a small working group to come up with solutions that will ensure delivery of clean water in an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient manner.
Addressing the dilemma of the Sacramento Delta is a key. That court order reducing water Delta exports is the result of years of siphoning water from a fragile ecosystem that is home to the endangered delta smelt. To protect the smelt, the court curtailed those exports. That order sent reverberations throughout our state. In addition to its intrinsic impact, the ruling highlighted the vulnerability of our state's water infrastructure --particularly the system of canals, levees and flood plains of the Delta.
It is time to make the investment that past Californians did in our water infrastructure. We need to protect and enhance the ecosystem of the Delta, ensure a reliable, high quality water supply for Southern California (I have been working closely with the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) which provides the majority of water to Beverly Hills), to adopt the best feasible water conservation strategies, decontaminate groundwater and promote water recycling.
In addition, a major debate is underway about how we store water. Many are concerned that as global warming raises winter temperatures, snow that would naturally be stored in the Sierra Nevadas until the summer will melt even earlier, potentially causing winter flooding and reducing summer water supplies. This would require increased water storage capacity.
As a result, some argue that all Californians should pay at least half the costs of building three specified dams in Northern California, through a proposed bond measure. But historically California dams have been built at their users' expense. (The state has never paid more than four percent of the cost of any dam.)
I favor an alternative approach under which the state would provide funds to local water agencies to determine their storage needs, allocate a significant share to restore the Delta ecosystem, and set aside a pool of funds for conservation, groundwater decontamination and recycling measures. Along with these steps, the state should require reduced water usage. The City of Los Angeles, for instance, uses scarcely more water today than it did in 1987--despite a one million person increase in population during the same period. If L.A. can do it, the whole state can do it.
Even as statewide measures are pending, the City of Beverly Hills has promoted conservation initiatives that encourage residents and businesses to voluntarily cut water consumption -- for example, by instituting rebates for water-saving appliances and other devices. In addition, Beverly Hills is installing cutting-edge technology that more efficiently regulates the use of water in parks, along with a new water leak and detection program. We should build on these efforts in the years to come, to avoid shortages that could affect our quality of life in the future.
Legislative Delegation to Israel
Last month I had the privilege of traveling with a legislative delegation to Israel. Typically I approach overseas legislative trips with skepticism; indeed, this is the first time in my public service career I have accepted an invitation to travel out of the country with legislative colleagues. As it turned out, our brief visit proved to be exceptionally meaningful and productive on issues ranging from helping resolve California's water crisis to expanding solar energy here. I also came away from the trip with new insights into the security issues at the Port of Los Angeles and LAX, a commitment to expand trade between California and Israel, the goal of changing a facet of the University of California's study abroad policy, and an even deeper and more nuanced understanding of issues related to the Holocaust that will enrich my role as co-chair of this year's Assembly event commemorating the Holocaust.
To elaborate briefly:
Water: As I mentioned, I serve on the legislative working group charged with making progress on our growing water crisis. In Israel we visited the water desalination plant that provides 15% of Israel's drinking water. We had the chance to question (perhaps interrogate is a better word!) a key manager of the facility about everything from the environmental consequences of the plant to techniques that make it cost-effective. These are significant issues as California contemplates the possibility of broadening water desalination efforts here.
Security: Retired General Herzl Shafir--who, among other things, led Israel's efforts to disengage from the Sinai pursuant to Israel's peace treaty with Egypt--is a security expert who advises major Israeli public and private institutions about how to tighten protections against terrorism. (For example, he just issued recommendations on how to improve security at the Port of Haifa, Israel's leading port.) He and I met privately, opening a dialogue on security issues that could yield dividends in California. Upon my return to the United States I spoke with David Freeman, who heads L.A.'s Board of Harbor Commissioners, about General Shafir's work in Israel. Port officials now are contacting the general to explore how his expertise might improve port security here.
Trade: Israel's economy is humming along, especially its technology sector. While several years ago California shut down its trade offices with Israel (and other nations) I am now exploring practical ways to intensify trade connections between our state and Israel.
University of California study abroad policy: One night we met with UC students who are studying for a semester in Israel. But unlike their counterparts studying in many other nations, the University of California requires students who wish to study in Israel to break their ties to UC; these students rarely get full credit for their courses; then they must re-enroll. One of my colleagues and I have begun efforts to change these policies.
Our trip also had great personal meaning. Yad Vashem is Israel's museum-that term hardly does it justice-devoted to examining the Holocaust. It is a profoundly moving place. I have studied the Holocaust ever since I was a child. As a Jew I always felt deeply connected to it, and as the director of Bet Tzedek, The House of Justice, I had led the only effort in the world to provide free legal assistance to Holocaust survivors seeking restitution for their suffering. But I did not believe any member of my family had died in the gas chambers. As I was walking through Yad Vashem, however, I came across a manifest from one of the trains transporting Jews from their homes to the death camps. It was the only manifest exhibited in the museum. I glanced at the manifest, which consisted of perhaps two hundred names. I did not see the name "Feuer," and moved on.
For some reason I returned, however, and looked at the manifest with more care. My family's name had been "Feuereisen" in Europe-and a very rare name it is. As with so many names, it was shortened by immigration officials at Ellis Island to "Feuer." As I reviewed the manifest at Yad Vashem again, I realized I had looked for the wrong name. There, to my shock, was the name of a man who bore my family name. His age was listed, and it was nearly identical to my own. The moment was overwhelming. Given the rarity of the original version of our name, the odds that this person, Joseph Feuereisen, had been at least a distant relative, are high. I stood frozen at the exhibit, my eyes brimming with tears. When our group decided to hold an informal ceremony moments later, I was asked to lead Kaddish--the prayer one recites for one who has died. I usually have little trouble finding words, but that was no easy task. I won't soon forget it, either.
There is so much more to tell-about how it felt to be just yards from the Gaza strip, a blimp in the air above us, stationed to give Israeli schoolchildren ninety seconds of warning of incoming rockets; about hugging the little girl from Darfur, a bullet scar in her forehead, at an amazing school in Tel Aviv that should provide lessons to California schools about how to assimilate an incredibly diverse array of students and parents into an academic community; about our emotional visit with the parents of the young Israeli soldier whose kidnapping by Hezbollah precipitated last year's war in Lebanon-but that will have to wait for another day.
I joined with other officials in opposing the proposed exchange to a non-governmental entity of approximately 10 acres of property currently used by the U.S. Army Reserve: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a42/pdf/USArmyReserve101007.pdf
Canstruction Benefits LA Regional Foodbank
This year I was pleased to join with the Office of Senator Jack Scott, the American Institute of Architects - Los Angeles Branch, and the Society for Design Administration in organizing the 2nd Annual Canstruction LA Event, at the Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.
Damian Carroll of my office spearheaded this friendly competition, which featured teams of architects, engineers and designers from across Los Angeles and Orange County, building enormous structures out of cans of food. These amazing structures were on display to the public for two weeks, during which visitors were asked to bring their own cans of food to deposit in bins. At event's end we had raised over 60,000 cans of food for the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank!
It took a lot of effort on the part of steering committee members, jurors, sponsors, and especially team members to put on this event, and I'd like to thank everyone involved for bringing attention to such a worthy cause, especially Damian Carroll, without whom this project never would have happened. Photos from our Awards Gala can be viewed here, and more information about this and next year's event can be found online at http://www.canstructionla.com/
Grossman Burn Center and VICA Supported Legislation
In my last newsletter, I asked burn center supporters to join with me in encouraging the Governor to sign legislation, AB 1269, addressing a shortfall in funding for hospitals treating serious burn victim cases. This legislation, which I co-authored with Assemblymember Ed Hernandez, gives the Director of the Department of Workers' Compensation the ability to create a separate fee schedule for burn center reimbursement. Previously these reimbursements were based on Medicare's fee schedule for senior citizen burn victims, and these rates were not always sufficient for the long-term treatment needed for younger patients. This situation left many burn centers in a precarious financial position.
Assemblyman Hernandez and I are grateful to have had the support of Sherman Oaks' own Grossman Burn Center and Valley Industry and Commerce Association at a key press conference promoting this bill. Doctors Richard and Peter Grossman, and VICA's Incoming Chair Greg Lippe spoke in favor of the bill, and underscored the importance of protecting burn centers. Their advocacy helped to make AB 1269 a success story -- it was signed into the law by Governor Schwarzenegger in October. Thanks to each of them and everyone who supported AB 1269, the ability of our state's burn centers to continue their essential mission is more secure.