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Thursday
Oct072010

TRANSPORTATION: Contracts, construction, $$$$....

***Two New York Times items of interest....

* "Governor of New Jersey Blocks Hudson Tunnel Project" - What had previously been speculation as to the intentions of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie regarding construction of a commuter train tunnel between NJ and Manhattan is now official:  Christie says he has in fact decided to terminate the project.  From the NYT:

   Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Thursday that he has decided to terminate the construction of a commuter train tunnel between northern New Jersey and Manhattan because of escalating estimates of the project’s cost. Until last month, the project had been estimated to cost $8.7 billion. But after his staff reviewed the project, Governor Christie said they concluded it would cost more than $11 billion, and possibly as much as $14 billion. The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had pledged $3 billion each toward the tunnel, but Mr. Christie said New Jersey could not afford to pay the balance.

   In early September, Mr. Christie surprised other elected officials and an array of transportation advocates who had supported the tunnel by ordering a temporary halt to spending on the project.

  ***

   The move would scuttle a project that has been in the planning for two decades and was supposed to double the capacity on trains into New York City and alleviate congestion on the region’s roads.

* "Siemens Wins Battle of Fast Trains" - Eurostar (which operates the fast train that runs under the English Channel -- between Paris and London and also London and Brussels) said today in Paris that it is awarding a contract for overhaul of its aging fleet of fast trains to Siemens, a German company.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this announcement was not well received within French corporate/rail circles.  From the NYT:

   In an effort to prepare for competition on cross-Channel rail traffic, Eurostar said Thursday that it had awarded a hotly sought contract to upgrade its aging fleet of fast trains to a German company, Siemens. The announcement did not sit well in Paris, which had been backing a French champion, and officials sharply criticized the decision.

   The £700 million, or $1.1 billion, contract will provide Eurostar — which is majority owned by the French state through its ownership of the national railway S.N.C.F. — with 10 of Siemens’ sleek new Velaro e320 trains. Siemens beat out the A.G.V. trains made by Alstom, the French industrial conglomerate. Designed by the Italian firm Pininfarina, the trains will be capable of traveling on other networks, as Eurostar seeks to extend its own reach into Germany and the Netherlands.

  ***

   Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar’s chief executive, said Thursday in London that the decision to award the contract to Siemens was based on “technical, commercial and pricing criteria.” “It was a very competitive tender and at the end Siemens made the best overall offer,” Mr. Petrovic said. “There’s nothing else behind that but commercial benefit to Eurostar.” But the news was a bad break for Alstom at a time when stagnating economies are keeping European orders down and competition is growing in overseas markets from rising stars like China. Alstom was bailed out by the French state in 2004, when President Nicolas Sarkozy was finance minister, and it is seen as a national standard-bearer.

Thursday
Oct072010

BELL: Receivership? a court-appointed monitor? a "transition council"?

* Los Angeles Times reports on the latest wrangling regarding the Bell salary scandal and what is playing out in terms of management of the city: "Bell residents group wants city placed into receivership" -- From the LAT:

   A group of Bell residents [Bell Residents Club] plan to march in front of City Hall on Thursday evening to demand that the city immediately be placed into receivership. The residents said they will come armed with brooms and shovels and a message that Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown still needs to "clean house" in Bell.

   ****

   Brown filed a lawsuit asking a judge to appoint a receiver for the city. On Sept. 30, he sent a letter to the city suggesting that it agree to another proposal, a  court-appointed monitor who will have "complete and unfettered access to all matters relating to the City." The city has until Friday to respond to the attorney general's office.

  [But] Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse co-founder Cristina Garcia said she has some concerns about receivership "when we don't know when it will end or any of the logistics." The court-appointed monitor, she said, would work with a recall effort underway and allow for local control. Garcia said she is also working on a proposal for a "transition council." Under that proposal, two respected residents would be appointed to work with Velez until an election can be held. Those residents would not be among the candidates running for office.

Thursday
Oct072010

SACRAMENTO: A couple items from Sacramento Bee opinion page -- Abel Maldonado endorsement; commentary on resolution of state budget ....

****A couple Sacramento Bee editorial page items.....

* Endorsement of Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor... "Endorsements:  Maldonado deserves to keep his current seat" -- From the Bee:

   Once again California  has two hardworking politicians running for an office that is hugely wasteful of their talents. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, faces Abel Maldonado, a Republican, for the largely ceremonial post of lieutenant governor. Maldonado now holds the job. Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to finish the term of John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress. After five months of embarrassing gamesmanship by Democrats, lawmakers in April finally approved Maldonado's appointment.

In a perfect world, California would change its constitution to let governors select their backups, much as presidential candidates pick their vice president. Yet until that happens, voters have the job of determining who would be the best lieutenant, no matter who is elected governor. On those grounds, Maldonado is clearly the stronger choice.

* Commentary on resolution of the state budget... "Editorial:  Kicking the can down the road -- one more time" -- From the Bee:

   Following 99 days of needless delay and diversions, lawmakers are slated today to vote on a  budget deal that, at least on paper, closes a $19 billion deficit. Whether it will pass is anyone's guess. Whether it should is equally dubious.

   This is not an honest budget deal, either in its presumptions or in the process that produced it. Although lawmakers made a show of hearings on the proposal Wednesday, they weren't substantive, and details on key provisions were sorely lacking. What we do know gives us little confidence that the state's gaping deficit will truly be closed. Lawmakers are presuming the state will receive up to $5.3 billion in federal funds in this fiscal year – far more than the $3.4 billion the governor projected in May. When that money fails to materialize, lawmakers will have to reconvene in a few months to finish the job.

   This is truly a "kick-the-can-down-the-road" budget, with not much of a kick.

Thursday
Oct072010

THE PERILS/PITFALLS OF PARKING METERS: Los Angeles, San Francisco....

Spotted a couple items today on the perils and pitfalls of parking meters in Los Angeles as well as San Francisco....

* Daily News (Kerry Cavanaugh column):  "Parking at meters requires know-how"-- From the DN:

   We are a city of cars, but parking those cars can be a nightmare. Some people give in and pay for a parking lot or valet. Others prefer to test their luck on the streets by cruising in search of an open spot in one of L.A.'s 37,000 metered parking spaces.

   As I sought answers on parking meter questions, I learned there are some very important distinctions between the old, coin-fed parking meters and the new meters and machines that take coins, credit or debit cards and even cell phone payments. And if you don't know the new rules, parking is going to be even more of a nightmare.

***Cavanaugh outlines sort of an everything-you-need-to-know tutorial on both the old, coin-fed meters as well as the new high-tech machines.  Details, lots of info; recommended reading.....

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "S.F. parking meter rates, fines among highest" -- From the Chronicle:

   San Francisco's parking meter rates and fines have more than doubled in the past 15 years, making the city one of the priciest places to park in the nation. The findings, outlined in a new report issued by the Board of Supervisors' legislative analyst, comes as the Municipal Transportation Agency is expanding the number of metered curbside spaces. The report, requested by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier,  compared San Francisco with other major cities and found that only Chicago and Los Angeles charge more to park at a downtown meter, and that San Francisco charges the highest rate outside of the downtown core. In addition, San Francisco matched only New York City in the highest meter violation fine, the report found.......

   San Francisco charges $2 to $3.50 an hour to park at a meter, with downtown costing the most and neighborhood commercial districts the least. The fine for parking at an expired meter is $55 in neighborhood commercial districts and $65 downtown. San Francisco raised meter rates in 2003, 2005 and 2009. The last time before that was in 1992. Meter violation fines have gone up five times since 1995. Parking meter revenue generated $38 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Revenue from expired-meter fines brought in almost $29 million more, according to the San Francisco MTA. The money helps fund the Muni transit system.

Thursday
Oct072010

POLITICS - PENSION FRAUD: "Ex-NY comptroller pleads guilty in pay-to-play"

* Los Angeles Times (AP) reports that former New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi pleaded guilty today to a felony corruption charge in connection with the pay-to-play scandal surrounding his office.  From the LAT:

   Former New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi pleaded guilty to a felony corruption charge Thursday for taking gifts while running the state's multibillion-dollar pension fund. The plea is the culmination of a yearslong probe of a scandal in which Hevesi aides and associates were accused of extracting millions of dollars in kickbacks from money management firms that had been awarded lucrative state investment contracts.

   Hevesi turned himself in early Thursday. He was booked and arraigned at a Manhattan courthouse, then pleaded guilty to a charge of receiving a reward for official misconduct. The details of the allegation, including a description of what gifts Hevesi had taken, were not immediately revealed.

***Also, in terms of a local connection, LAT notes that the Hevesi case led to spinoff investigations of similar pay-to-play allegations in California and New Mexico, and prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to propose new rules restricting political donations by money managers seeking state business.