Coalition letter to LA Mayor & MTA on Climate Justice: Expand the Bus System, not the I-710 Freeway

December 2, 2011

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa

Chair of the Board of Directors

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

200 North Spring Street, #303

Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Mayor
Villaraigosa:

With the United Nations Summit on Climate Change kicking off this week in Durban, South Africa,
we are writing to urge you, as the Mayor of second largest city in the US,
Chair of the MTA Board, and President of US Conference of Mayors, to exercise leadership
in addressing our region's contribution to the climate crisis. We are writing
as part of a national and international mobilization associated with the
Grassroots Global Justice Network and La Via Campesina calling for local and
justice-based solutions
to climate change. LA can and should lead by
example with policies that address our region's racial and economic disparities
while substantially reducing our carbon footprint.

We are especially concerned about two policies being pursued by the Los Angeles County
Metropolitan Transportation Authority that represent major steps backward for
our region: 1) 941,000 bus service hours slashed in the last four years,
including dozens of bus lines canceled, truncated, or losing mid-day, weekend,
or night service; and 2) an irresponsible multi-billion dollar expansion of
Interstate 710.
These policies will worsen our region's contribution to
climate change and they will also harm the health and well-being of the people
in our region, especially low income communities of color who depend on public
transportation and neighbor the existing freeway. We urge you and the other
members of the MTA Board to reverse this trend by restoring and expanding bus
service and stopping the proposed 710 expansion. 

The global
climate crisis and LA's response

As the devastating
super-charged storms of 2011 and the global scientific consensus clear
demonstrate, there is simply no time to wait to take bold steps to address the
climate crisis. The health and well-being of our own region and billions of
people around the world are at stake. As Mayor of Los Angeles, you have stated
publicly your desire to make Los Angeles a model green city for the 21st
century. Last year, you were among 138 mayors from cities around the globe to
sign the Mexico City Pact in advance of the UN Climate Summit,
committing to develop and implement local climate-change action plans that
are measurable, reportable and verifiable. While some elements of your
plan for reducing LA's carbon emissions are commendable, the above-mentioned
policies fly in the face of the commitment you made on behalf of our region on
a world stage.  

Halt the
Irresponsible Expansion of I-710

Community members
along the I-710 corridor and everybody in the region concerned about pollution
and climate change will reject any Metro-Caltrans proposal that does not
incorporate the following key community demands into the project:

  • Assessment of Who Pays: The I-710
    communities in our coalition are opposed to the continued subsidization of the
    freight industry through our health; accordingly, the project proponents need
    to reexamine the often overlooked assumption that the community and public
    funds should continue to pay for this multi-billion dollar project, which is
    designed primarily as a boon to the freight movement industry. Additionally, project proponents
    should explore and assess various equitable pricing mechanisms to manage I-710
    corridor travel demand while keeping equity concerns central for choosing the
    best alternative.
  • Zero-Emissions Technology: Any
    project that moves forward must include an enforceable commitment to use
    zero-emission technologies immediately upon completion.
  • Public/Alternative Transportation: Any
    project must include aggressive strategies to improve public transportation
    along the I-710 corridor. The project proponents must engage with interested
    parties to prioritize implementation of an effective and comprehensive public
    transportation element in the design of this project. Additionally, any
    corridor enhancement to the I-710 must ensure adequate and safe bicycling and
    pedestrian infrastructure for the residents in this corridor.
  • Health Impact Assessment (HIA): Metro-Caltrans
    need to incorporate all the HIA results into the EIR/EIS to maintain
    transparency. Public health advocates and the environmental community reject
    the agencies' resistance to including the full assessment of health impacts as
    part of the Draft and Final EIR/EIS for this project.
  • Mitigation Measures: The final
    project must include adequate mitigation to protect the surrounding
    communities. Additionally the I-710 project should not adversely impact
    the LA River, and should be designed to augment and protect this vital
    community resource

In addition to
being significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions, freeway -- particularly
those that carry a high level of diesel truck traffic -- pose a serious threat
to public health.  Recent studies have associated serious health outcomes
with living close to freeways.  These health risks include more premature
and low birth weight babies, increased death from heart attacks and stroke,
thicker arteries, and higher rates of lung cancer. Additionally, research has
established that children living near freeway traffic have lowered lung
function and higher rates of asthma. The Long Beach freeway (I-710) averages
about 1,100 diesel trucks per hour with peaks as high as 2,600 heavy-duty
diesel trucks per hour. There is a strong and urgent public health need to
reduce existing dangerous conditions for the overburdened communities along the
I-710 corridor.  Metro cannot look  the other way while Caltrans
pushes through another freeway expansion project, which will be a significant
health threat to the region's residents.

Expand MTA Bus
Service, Lower Fares

Expanding bus
service and lowering transit fares are cost-efficient ways to attract Angelenos
out of their single-passenger automobiles and benefit transit-dependent low
income people of color, who are the majority of the system's current users. We
appreciate your efforts earlier this year to stop bus service cuts; we need
even stronger leadership now to reverse the MTA's recent trends. 

  • LA's poor transportation system and carbon
    footprint from cars.
    LA County has 7 million cars for 11 million people.
    Automobiles are the leading source of carbon emissions in Los Angeles, and LA's
    transportation system ranks among the worst for major cities in the US and
    Canada with respect to carbon emissions. It is also suffers from the air
    pollution of any major metropolitan area in the US. Low income communities of
    color, who are more often using public transit and not automobiles, suffer
    disproportionately from the health impacts of air pollution, especially given
    that freeways are frequently routed through our neighborhoods.
  • LA missing opportunity created by economic
    crisis to increase transit ridership.
    The economic crisis has been largely
    responsible for skyrocketing demand for use of mass transit nationally. Yet
    this has been a missed opportunity for LA Metro, as service cuts and transit
    fares increases have made mass transit a much less attractive option for those
    considering a mode shift from cars, and have been associated in recent years
    with a sharp decline in ridership.
  • Service reductions and transit fare increases
    devastate transit-dependent low-income communities of color.
    The Federal
    Transit Administration's review of MTA is examining possible discriminatory
    impacts on these communities of the agency's policies. Higher fares 40% total
    over the last four years -- plus canceled or truncated lines, longer wait
    times, and more transfers - the impose a major burden on these communities and
    create barriers to participate in LA's already slow economic recovery.
  • A plan for bus service expansion and fare
    reduction plan can be a cornerstone of LA's transition to a just and robust
    low-emissions economy.
    Bus expansion is much more cost-efficient than other
    forms of transit infrastructure investment. MTA faces no major financial
    crunch; funds are already available to purchase and run low or zero-emissions
    buses and lower fares today, not in 10 or 20 or 30 years. These policies will
    create thousands of green jobs and provide an economic stimulus for hundreds of
    thousands of people in LA.

Addiction to an
auto- and freeway-based transportation system and the entrenched influence of
corporate lobbyists are power obstacles standing in the way of real climate
progress for our region. In that context, a coalition of environmental and
economic justice and civil rights organization can play a lead role - working
with elected officials willing to take bold stands - to push forward real
solutions. We look forward to working with you on this endeavor.

Sincerely,

Darryl Molina-Sarmiento, Communities for a Better
Environment                 

Isella Ramirez, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Sunyoung Yang, Bus Riders Union

Martha Dina Arguello, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles