Will you pay $20 bucks more a month to ride Metrolink?

I wrote the following story after attending a Metrolink board meeting in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Many of the riders of these commuter trains (they whoosh by our office every day on the very popular San Bernardino-to-LA line) said in written public comments that they will find other ways to get to work, such as vanpools and carpools, even drive.
If you are a Metrolink rider, email me at steve.scauzillo@gmail.com and tell me what you think. Will you continue riding Metrolink trains after the increase takes effect July 1?

Here’s the story. Remember, it’s best to email me (steve.scauzillo@gmail.com) or tweet me at twitter.com/stevscaz #metrolink if you prefer. I’d like to see what riders think and maybe do a column.
Here’s my news story in case you missed it:

Metrolink riders will pay $20.25 more for a monthly pass, part of largest fare increase in history
By Steve Scauzillo, SGVN

Southern California rail commuters will pay an additional $20.25 for a monthly pass to ride Metrolink starting July 1.

The increase in the monthly pass – the most common method of payment used by its 40,000 daily passengers – was part of an overall 7 percent fare hike approved on a 9-1-1 vote by the Metrolink Board on Wednesday. Bob Bartlett, the alternate for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, abstained.

It is the largest percentage increase in the commuter rail line’s 19-year history. And it’s the 11th time the board raised fares in the past 14 years, according to Metrolink records. The previous fare increase was 6 percent in 2010 and was the highest jump until Wednesday’s increase. The board did not raise fares in 2011.

Knabe, who voted no, preferred a 5 percent hike but did not get support. Bartlett said he didn’t know how Antonovich felt about the rate restructuring so he abstained. Personally, the one-time Monrovia mayor said he would have preferred the board adopt only a 5 percent hike. The board rejected a maximum 9 percent fare hike as suggested by staff for fear it would drive away too many riders.

The 7 percent fare hike will raise about $4.5 million, about one-third of the amount needed to close a $13 million deficit in a $194 million budget. The gap is due primarily to $4.2 million in additional labor costs, $1.2 million for passenger transfer costs and $4 million in higher diesel fuel costs, according to Metrolink. The other two-thirds – about $8.5 million – will be paid by Metrolink’s member agencies. They include: the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Orange County Transportation Authority, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments and the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

Board chairman Richard Katz could not rule out another fare hike next year if fuel costs keep rising. “That is hard to predict. We would keep it to a minimum,” he said after the meeting.

More than 90 percent of the 159 responders who commented through email and on the web were opposed to the rate hike, said Mark Waier, manager of marketing and sales.

“As a student, I am already paying higher tuition. So I am already suffering,” testified Jose Rodriguez, a student at Cal State Los Angeles. The San Bernardino Line stops in Pomona, Claremont, Covina, Baldwin Park, El Monte and Cal State L.A. before reaching Union Station in Los Angeles.

Rodriguez, who rides the line to and from school every weekday, asked for no increase. He and others testified that Metrolink should cut costs and find other ways to raise revenues, including selling coffee and wine on board the train and at station platforms.

Charlie McDaniel, who told the board her monthly pass will go from $320 to more than $340 to ride from Riverside to L.A., wanted to see Starbucks on train stations and bar cars on trains.

She said while costs increase, service decreases. “You can’t even get a seat from Union Station unless you arrive quite early,” she told the board.

Katz said ridership was up 8 percent this year and 8 percent last year, mostly from auto commuters who don’t want to pay higher gasoline prices.

Yet despite the increased ridership, and the addition of express trains and holiday trains, operating costs are way up, he said.

“Fare increases are the last thing we want to do. We don’t take this lightly,” he told the audience of about 75 people.

Some riders who commented by email said a steep increase will cause them to find a cheaper way to commute. “I’ve been paying about $270 per month for passes. However, I’m switching to a carpool next month. It’s cheaper, I’ll only be paying … a total of $244,” said one commenter.

Paul Wilson, a USC student from Burbank, told the board some increase was anticipated but not this much. “This fare increase is outstripping the cost of inflation,” he said.

But Bart Reed, executive director of the nonprofit The Transit Coalition, advocated in favor of the rate increase as long as train service is not downgraded in any way.

High gas prices, which averaged $4.16 to $4.22 a gallon on Memorial Day, necessitate a functioning commuter rail system. “Many Southern California drivers and mass transit users will rely on Metrolink to get them through what is projected to be a very tough summer for gas prices. Maintaining current service levels, as well as service additions such as express, weekend and holiday trains, will provide Southern California commuters more options to escape high gas prices,” Reed said.

626-962-8811 Ext. 2237

A gas station of tomorrow — today

Pull up to a Propel Fuels gas station and you could be asked: “Do you want fry oil with that?”

This unique drive-thru offering “food” for your car is the gas station of the future, today. The Clean Mobility Center, the first of its kind in the nation, debuted in Fullerton on Wednesday on Chapman Avenue, selling two blends of biodiesel fuels including B20, which is 80 percent petro-diesel and 20 percent waste veggie fry oil or biodiesel. Also available on the same green island is E85, 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The corn/alcohol/gas blend is known as FlexFuel and is accepted in dozens of cars, pickups and SUVs carrying the FlexFuel label. Chevrolet has had several models for years, from the Malibu to the Silverado truck.

The best thing with FlexFuel is that Propel is selling it for $3.59 a gallon, about a buck lower than the $4.23 to $4.44 for a compatible unleaded gasoline grade. So you can save money and the planet.

“There are many American drivers who don’t even know they have a FlexFuel car,” said Propel Fuels CEO Matt Horton.

Yeah, now that you’re back from checking the back of your car, keep on reading.

Got a diesel vehicle? Diesel isn’t just for big rigs anymore. Car manufacturers are making diesel cars as clean diesel technology emerges. They can take Propel’s biodiesel blend without any conversion necessary. Horton himself drives a 2005 Volkswagen TDI diesel and says he doesn’t notice any difference between diesel and biodiesel in performance or fuel economy.

Motor Trend awarded the 2012 VW TDI Passat first place in fuel economy. The Passat got 40 miles per gallon, beating top-rated hybrid sedans. And yes, it can run on Propel’s biodiesel blend, he said.

Sick of paying higher prices for gasoline? Tired of supporting big oil companies that earn humungous profits and foul our oceans? Want a way to stop supporting overseas dictators?

There is an alternative.

“For the first time anywhere, now there are options,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the state Air Resources Board.

With 23 stations in California, Propel Fuels, an American company that actually moved from Washington into Redwood City, bringing jobs to the state, is also bringing its blend of alternative fuels and environmental consciousness to the consumer level.

Their Clean Mobility Centers also offer: free air right on the island; a bicycle station also with air and free access to tools to repair your two-wheeler; a map/transit/carpool information kiosk, and for those filling up with regular gasoline, a carbon footprint offset.

For an extra buck, you can offset the damage to the environment by swiping your card and pushing the “carbon offset” button at the pump. You’ll instantly invest in carbonfund.org, which is building clean energy projects. Each time you fill up and swipe, Propel will track your environmental progress. It has about 10,000 customers already in its database.

If you don’t live near Fullerton, you can fill up with clean fuels at their partnership stations: the Chevron Station at West Huntington Drive and First Street in Arcadia; the 76 Station at Firestone Boulevard and San Antonio Drive in Norwalk.

Propel Fuels plans on adding natural gas and maybe hydrogen, as soon as the vehicle market for both fuels expands, Horton said.

As fast as Propel picked up grants, first from the feds and then from the California Energy Commission ($5 million in seed money), it is towing a crowd of venture capital investors, Nichols said.

“They have leveraged a lot of private capital,” said Andrew McAllister, Energy Commission board member. Propel includes several private industry customers, such as shipping giant FedEx and Econation, a green taxi-limousine service that uses the Arcadia station to fill up its FlexFuel vans.

Less smog, a better climate future, energy independence, American jobs and convenience. Pretty impressive.

They had me at free air pumps.

Starving CSU students’ voices go unheeded

ON my way to teaching my class at nearby Cal State Fullerton, I stepped over a bedroll outside the convenience store inside Langsdorf Hall, the building that houses the university’s administration.

I asked the student clerk who handed me my vanilla latte what was all the commotion about. When she told me, it didn’t register.

Students were going without food in protest of overwhelming cuts and nearly continuous tuition hikes at the Cal State Universities.

That’s right. A student hunger strike. The 10 hunger strikers, including David Inga of CSUF, according to the CSUF student newspaper The Daily Titan, ended their action last Friday shortly after a meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees. It’s not clear whether the group, Students for Quality Education, made a difference. But they are claiming victory because Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to meet with them and consider their demands: eliminate all housing and car allowances for all 23 campus presidents; rollback executive salaries to 1999 levels and a five-year freeze on tuition increases, according to The Daily Titan.

First, those demands make sense to me. Yet, the CSU Chancellor’s Office says no existing administrator has had raises since 2007 and when everyone – including part-time faculty – received 10 percent paycuts and furlough days, the administrators took the hits as well. And if there are no fee increases, a campus or two may have to close this fall.

Clearly, CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed is in a tough spot. He’s being squeezed by cutbacks in state funding. And if the governor’s tax proposal is not approved by voters this fall, the ax will fall closer to part-time professors like me, and that could mean elimination of more class sections at CSUs, UCs and community colleges and hurt students, too.

Gary A. Negin, a professor in the College of Education at California State San Bernardino, wrote an opinion piece Wednesday in a sister newspaper showing how cutbacks affect students and faculty. “For example, 8,000 fewer courses were offered in 2010-2011 than in 2008-2009 (at the CSUs). Students frequently have to interrupt, postpone, or end their studies because they cannot find seats in classrooms that are filled to capacity.”

Negin reported on an analysis by The Sacramento Bee published earlier this month that found many graduates of high schools in California applied for admission to universities in other states because they were frustrated after being rejected by a CSU. He added: “More students are leaving California than are coming to California to attend school, even though the annual costs for out-of-state residents are higher.”

Negin and the hunger strikers get it: California is losing its edge in higher education. A state that once led the nation in this area is slipping, badly.

Second, that day when I was rushing to my office to put some finishing touches on my lecture, I was oblivious to what was literally unfolding at my feet.

Students are starving themselves just to stop what has been a 318 percent rise in tuition since 2002. This fall, the latest 9 percent tuition hike takes effect, pushing the price of a year’s tuition at a CSU to more than $7,000 for the first-time ever. Pay for CSU presidents range from $259,000 to $400,000.

Students are not a voting bloc. They get ignored by politicians. The sad part is, they have to starve themselves to be heard. What will it take for the people of California to realize that the system is hurting our future leaders? Will it take a student dying next time? I hope not.

At a rally at Mt. SAC in Walnut, speakers urged students to vote. I agree that is the best way for their voices to be heard. I would admonish parents, too, since they are the ones picking up the tab for their children’s higher tuition.

I also like the students’ other demand: To directly elect the CSU Board of Trustees, instead of the governor or the Legislature hand-picking folks who agree with them. “…it will be empowering students (and) faculty to find the best representatives for the best interest of California students.”

Add my voice to theirs.


Least bell’s vireo seen in San Gabriel Valley

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Kimball L. Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, allows a child to take a peek through his scope focused on a rare bird in the San Gabriel River. Garrett led the bird walk last month in association with the Duarte Historical Society Museum. (SGVN/Staff photo by Steve Scauzillo)
Read more: http://www.sgvtribune.com/ci_20556102/steve-scauzillo-seeing-endangered-bird-bittersweet-moment?IADID=Search-www.sgvtribune.com-www.sgvtribune.com#ixzz1uJfGSeHt

SEEING the least bell’s vireo on a recent birding hike adds an endangered species to my bird life list. It’s a feather in any birder’s cap to see a rare bird, or more so, an endangered bird. Figuratively speaking, of course.

When I heard that Kimball Garrett, the ornithologist with the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, was leading the walk on Earth Day last month, I jumped at the chance. And when I heard he was searching for the endangered bird in the scrub and arundo of the natural courses of the San Gabriel River, I set my alarm to be there.

Believe me, getting up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday is worth it if it meant moving a bird from one’s wish list (a bucket list of birds you really want to see) to one’s life list (species you’ve seen, along with the date and the place).

If it wasn’t endangered, you might not really look for it, said Garrett, whose down-to-earth demeanor perfectly complements his tremendous bird knowledge. Garrett’s book “Birds of the Los Angeles Region,” is a good example. It’s straight forward, easy to use and complete – like him. Plus, I like the focus on local birds. It narrows things down for us beginning birder types.

There is nothing worse than a docent talking about birds not in the hike. Like the time I visited the Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach and the friendly guide went on a 10-minute tangent about snowy owls.

On that gray Sunday morning in Duarte, Garrett spoke with equal enthusiasm about the vireo as he did the yellow warbler perched in the tree at the edge of Encanto Park. He’s no bird snob. He’s a guy who gets phone calls from people throughout the county asking what they should do about squawking wild parrots.
“Close your windows?” he relayed to the group, cracking a Mona Lisa smile.

When my wife asked him about the cooper’s hawk that began stalking the house finches and white-crowned sparrows hovering around our backyard bird feeder, Garrett deadpanned: “You might want to stop feeding them.”

It’s that kind of practical, been-there advice that punctuated the bird hike and made it so enjoyable. That, and seeing birds I’ve never seen, including the yellow-breasted chat, what I suspected was a favorite of Garrett’s.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting at a picnic table in Lareo Park, staring into the river. I saw a crow dogging a hawk and thought of Garrett. And as I stared into the misty mountainside, I remembered the least bell’s vireo I had seen a few weeks earlier.

I couldn’t shake the thought of that tiny, gray bird, vulnerable, ready to disappear from the streams of California forever. I no longer felt so happy about seeing it.

The whole idea of endangered species bothers me. The idea that animals are here one day, gone the next. And that we don’t even know it is happening, and often, don’t care.

The whole bittersweet experience caused my mind to wander about what it means to be extinct. One of your kind is around no more, not even after you’re gone. No legacy. Just gone.

It really takes knowledge to see the invisible world of birds. And knowledge is helping those that are endangered, including the least bell’s vireo.

Dan Guthrie, biology professor emeritus at Claremont McKenna College, said efforts to bring back the gray bird have raised its numbers from a few hundred in the `70s to a couple thousand today.

“They have recovered pretty well,” Guthrie said.

Turns out, the cowbirds were laying eggs in its nest. The more dominant bird would kick out the vireo chicks and the vireo adults would feed the cowbird chicks instead. Sort of like kidnapping.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife program traps and yes, kills cowbirds so the vireos can thrive. They are making a comeback in Prado Basin near Chino and along the Santa Clara River. And I’m happy to report, here, in the San Gabriel River.

You may not see it. And neither may I again. But knowing its been given a new chance at life satisfies something deep in my soul.

Steve Scauzillo covers the environment and the communities along the Puente Hills. He’s the current recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz/twitter.com or email him at steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com