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City Council approves electric scooter regulations

By CRAIG CLOUGH

City News Service

LOS ANGELES — The unlimited growth of the dockless electric scooter industry in Los Angeles was slowed today by the City Council, which passed regulations for a one-year pilot program that will require companies to remove thousands of devices from city streets.

Under the rules adopted by the council, the scooters will be limited to 3,000 per company at the start of a one-year pilot program, with additional devices allowed in “disadvantaged” communities. The pilot program will begin within 120 days, and in the interim, companies can apply for a conditional use permit for up to 3,000 devices.

A representative of scooter company Bird told City News Service the firm has been operating about 8,000 scooters per day in Los Angeles this summer, while fellow operator Lime is believed to be operating at a similar level.

“It would be a serious cut,” David Estrada, head of government relations and public policy for Bird, said before the vote. “And the way we look at it is, it’s a drastic and chaotic cut to the market of transportation people rely upon every day.”

The dockless Lime and Bird scooters have proliferated in Westside communities over the last year, leaving local governments scrambling with how to regulate them. The city of Beverly Hills recently banned them for six months, while Santa Monica last month created a 16-month pilot program which caps the number of scooters allowed on the streets.

The motorized devices have sparked love-them-or-hate-them emotions among many residents, with some arguing they are an environmentally friendly mode of transportation and the wave of the future, while opponents complain they are a safety hazard cluttering up public rights-of-way by careless users illegally riding them on the sidewalk and without a helmet.

The scooters work through a phone app that allows people to find and unlock the devices and drop them off anywhere they are allowed, with no docking station or kiosk required.

The devices have proven to be divisive on the L.A. City Council as well, with Councilman Paul Koretz in July calling for a ban on them until the city fully drafts its regulations. Councilman Mitchell Englander recently pressured the Department of Transportation to issue cease-and-desist letters to all scooter companies by the end of last week that were not part of any established pilot program.

According to the department, however, there are no existing pilot programs in the city for dockless scooters, only for dockless bikes, meaning every company is technically subject to the cease-and-desist order.

The regulations passed this week appeared to clear up the cease-and- desist issue, since companies will be able to apply for conditional use permits.

The council debated how many devices to allow during the upcoming pilot program. The Transportation Committee had recommended 3,000 per company, but the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee had recommended 1,500. A late proposal by Councilman Joe Buscaino to cap the conditional permits at 6,000 devices failed on a 4-9 vote before the council approved a number of 3,000 on a 13-0 vote.

Prior to the vote, Buscaino spoke at a news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall with officials from Bird, and made an entrance on a Bird scooter — while wearing a helmet.

“It’s important for us, if we’re going to address the traffic issue in our city, we need to embrace traffic solutions and live in a multi-modal city,” Buscaino said.

The pilot program that will begin within 120 days allows for controlled growth of the devices. Although companies are capped at 3,000 devices, they will have the opportunity to add up to 2,500 more devices if they are located in disadvantaged communities, and they can add an additional 5,000 in disadvantaged communities in the San Fernando Valley.

After demonstrating compliance with program requirements and meeting certain performance criteria, the Department of Transportation can allow companies to increase their fleet size, but the program does not specify a cap on such expansion.

The council also approved a top speed of the scooters of 15 mph, which is the speed already offered by Bird and Lime. The Transportation Committee had recommended they be capped at 12 mph after Councilman Mike Bonin said he heard some companies were considering raising their speeds to be more competitive in the market and attract users.

Mary Caroline Pruitt, a communications manager for Lime, told City News Service last month that “by slowing traffic, the proposed regulation would increase safety concerns. An average cyclist bikes at a speed of 15-20 miles per hour, so imposing a scooter speed cap of 12 miles per hour would disrupt the flow of traffic in bike lanes and streets, which could cause safety hazards.”

The new regulations require companies to equip the scooters with a minimum 48-point font warning against riding on sidewalks. Companies also must maintain a 24-hour hotline and respond to improperly parked or inoperable devices within two hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In the future, operators will be required to use technology that can tell if a device is parked upright. The city may also designate parking areas for the devices in high-traffic areas.

LAUSD teachers overwhelmingly vote for strike

Independent Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if labor negotiations continue to stall, union officials announced Aug. 31.

According to United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents about 33,000 teachers, 98 percent of its members who cast ballots voted in favor of a strike, although the vote-counting was still continuing.

Arlene Inouye, chair of the UTLA bargaining team, called the vote a “sharp rebuke” of LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s agenda to “starve our schools of resources, call them failures, opening the door to dismantling our school district.”

“What are we asking for? Smaller class sizes, fair pay raise, more nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians. Less testing and more teaching. Charter and co-location regulation. Real support for school safety,” Inouye said.

The vote does not automatically mean a walkout will occur. The vote only gives union leadership the right to call a strike depending on the status of labor talks with the district.

There has not been a teachers strike in the LAUSD since 1989.

In response to the voting result, the district issued a statement saying it “remains opposed to a strike and stands with students, families and employees to ensure learning and safety come first.”

“Students and families will bear the brunt of a strike,” the district’s statement said. “We hope our shared responsibility to put students first will prevent a strike and lead to a common-sense resolution that recognizes the hard work of our employees while addressing the safety and instructional needs of students and the financial solvency of L.A. Unified.”

UTLA has already declared the negotiations at an impasse, and a state mediator has been appointed in hopes of resolving the deadlock.

But no mediation sessions have occurred, and none are scheduled until Sept. 27. The late date has led to accusations by UTLA that district officials have been delaying the process, with the union claiming it was prepared to begin mediation by mid-August. The district has denied the allegation, saying it accepted the Sept. 27 offered by the state mediator.

Meanwhile, both the district and the union have filed charges against the other with the state Public Employment Relations Board. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district Aug. 27, accusing the district of unlawfully interfering with the union’s strike-authorization vote and failing to provide requested financial documents.

The district responded the next day, accusing UTLA of engaging in “take-it-or-leave-it bargaining” and failing to even consider any compromises for roughly 16 months.

Salary is one part of the division between the district and the union. United Teachers Los Angeles has asked for a 6.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2016, with the possibility of future raises in a contract that would run through June 30, 2020.

The district has offered 6 percent, stretched out over a three-year period. Other district employee unions already have settled for about 6 percent, spread out over several years in various ways, but they could be entitled to additional compensation if the teachers get more.

The union has also called for steps to reduce class sizes and to increase accountability for charter schools.

The district has contended that the union’s offer would increase the LAUSD’s existing $500 million deficit in the current school year by another $813 million. It also claims that the district’s existing $1.2 billion reserve fund cannot be used to cover the union demands since it is already being used to offset the existing budget shortfall.

 

Early-warning system reacts to recent earthquake

Independent Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — A magnitude-4.4 earthquake that struck north of La Verne Aug. 28 was felt at police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and in Glendale, Lakewood, other parts of Los Angeles County and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and San Diego counties.

It also gave the state’s earthquake early-warning system another successful run. Seismologist Lucy Jones told reporters that the system sent out a warning three seconds before the shaking began.

The earthquake early-warning system is under development by the U.S. Geological Survey and is only available to a limited array of testers, but it is expected that more people will be eligible to test the system later this year, The Times reported.

The early-warning system works on a simple principle: The shaking from an earthquake travels at the speed of sound through rock, which is slower than the speed of modern communications systems. For example, it would take more than a minute for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that starts at the Salton Sea and travels up the state’s longest fault, the San Andreas, to shake Los Angeles, 150 miles away. An early-warning system would give L.A. residents crucial seconds, and perhaps even more than a minute, to prepare.

A seismic early-warning system for the West Coast has been underdevelopment for years by the USGS, the nation’s lead earthquake monitoring agency, but the project has remained short of funds.

It is estimated that building a full system covering the West Coast would cost at least $38.2 million, with about $16.1 million annually to operate and maintain it, The Times reported.

The USGS has said it planned to begin issuing limited public alerts from the system by the end of this year, as long as funding wasn’t cut.

Southern California is one area where the network of seismic sensors is dense enough at present to begin early warnings.

For the system to go live all along the West Coast, more sensors need to be installed in Washington, Oregon and sparsely populated areas of Northern California, The Times reported. More than 850 earthquake-sensing stations are online, but about 800 more are needed, officials said. Too few sensors could mean, for instance, that Los Angeles would experience delays in warnings from an earthquake that starts in Monterey County and barrels south along the San Andreas fault.

Along the West Coast, facilities including airports, oil refineries, pipelines, schools, universities, city halls and libraries are already testing or planning to test the system, according to The Times.

The Aug. 28 earthquake struck at 7:33 p.m. about three miles north of La Verne at a depth of 3.7 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS reported that a second quake, with a magnitude of 3.4, struck near the same area about a minute after the first.

There were no reports of damage.

Jones said the quake should not be expected to have done damage to structures.

Jones said the quake, felt as far away as Bakersfield and Oceanside, was not on the Sierra Madre fault, one of the largest in the region, but on an ancillary structure.

The earthquake was the largest in Southern California since Dec. 29, 2015, when a magnitude-4.3 quake struck near Devore, in San Bernardino County, Jones said.

A 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck in La Habra on March 28, 2014.

“This is a very ordinary earthquake for California, the size that we have several times a year somewhere in the state,” Jones said.

More than a dozen small aftershocks were felt and as is always the case, there was about a 5 percent the largest magnitude-4.4 earthquake would be followed by a bigger one, Jones said.

Jones retired from the USGS in March 2016 after 33 years to found the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society to foster the understanding and application of scientific information in the creation of more resilient communities.

 

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