Categoria: High Desert

LA Metro Makes Gold Line Foothill Extension Its No. 1 Priority For State Funds

With two out of three unfunded LA Metro rail projects given no money by the state transportation agency earlier this year, supporters of those projects have asked, what is Plan B?

LA Metro’s board on Thursday, March 23, declared the 3.2-mile Gold Line Foothill Extension to Claremont and Montclair its number one priority for the next round of state funding grants, including its consideration for inclusion in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2023-2034 state budget. The foothill line was Metro’s second place priority in a recent round of state grants.

Crews install light-rail tracks on completed light-rail bridge over Bonita Avenue and Cataract Avenue intersection in San Dimas on March 10, 2023. (photo courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).

Crews install relocated freight track at Fulton Road grade crossing in Pomona for the Gold Line (now L Line) extension from Azusa to Pomona on Feb. 10, 2022. The extension of the LA Metro light rail line is funded to Pomona. But not to Claremont and Montclair, as planned for decades. Metro on Thursday, Dec. 1, applied to the state for $798 million to complete the line. It was one of three rail projects in an application being sent to Sacramento for funding out of a state budget surplus. But on Jan. 31, 2023, they were denied the grant. On March 23, 2023, LA Metro made the project the No. 1 priority for receiving future state funding.(image courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority)

Map shows route of extension of the L Line currently under construction to Pomona, to be completed in 2025. The portion to Claremont and Montclair is unfunded. (courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).

Now called the “L Line,” the extension from Azusa to Pomona is being built entirely with local taxpayer dollars. When completed in 2025, the light-rail line will include 23 out of 24 stations in Los Angeles County, missing only Claremont. A one-mile section to Montclair in San Bernardino County is fully funded.

Nine state lawmakers, acting as part of the San Gabriel Valley Legislative Caucus, wrote a Jan. 31 letter to Metro bluntly stating their unhappiness after the state’s light rail funding awards were announced. They wrote: “We were disappointed to see The California State Transportation Agency fund the Inglewood Transit Connector before the number two and three priorities LA Metro submitted for the transit dollars made available for Southern California in the 2022-23 budget.”

CalSTA went against those legislators, giving $407 million to an Inglewood people mover project that will carry football and basketball fans to SoFi stadium and to the Los Angeles Clippers stadium being built in Inglewood. CalSTA did, however, grant LA Metro its top priority — $600 million for the East San Fernando Valley light-rail project.

The misnamed West Santa Ana Branch line, Metro’s third priority this year, was also skipped over. It would be a 19.3-mile light-rail line from downtown L.A. into southeast L.A. County cities. It was moved up to number two on Metro’s priority list in Thursday’s board action.

Local congressional members also wrote to Metro, asking that it move the Gold Line extension to Montclair to its highest priority for state funds.

“The unfunded project is environmentally cleared, has undergone advanced engineering and pre-construction utility work and is shovel ready,” wrote Reps. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena and Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte. “The small portion of the system planned in San Bernardino County is equally ready and has already secured full funding.”

The Metro board heard from several mayors, as well as the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership and Citrus College, all urging a stronger push for state dollars to complete the Gold Line’s foothill line. With about $40 million saved from the Azusa-to-Pomona extension, the amount needed is about $758 million.

Claremont Mayor Ed Reece said the project can be completed in five years. But if funding is delayed again, costs may rise and completion may be delayed. The project has been plagued by rising costs since 2018.

“This project will create 5,500 jobs and a billion dollars in economic output. It will take tens of thousands of cars off the roads each day,” said Reece.

A report by Metro says the Gold Line foothill extension has been a part of its regional plan since the early 1990s. It was included in Metro’s 2009 and 2020 Long Range Transportation Plan. Completion to Montclair would reduce car trips by an estimated 15,000 daily, and 26.7 million vehicle miles annually, studies show.

La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn says the Gold Line extension would be the only light-rail project connecting Los Angeles, Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley with the Inland Empire. The line to the IE is seen as cutting the car traffic commuting to and from jobs in L.A. County, jamming the 210 Freeway and creating toxic air emissions in the San Gabriel and eastern San Fernando valleys.

Montclair City Council member Bill Ruh told the Metro board his city has already built about 2,000 housing units around the future station. Mayor John Dutrey said the city is meeting its state-mandated housing goals but not being rewarded.

“Yesterday’s action was important, as Sacramento continues to support funding for transit in the upcoming budget cycles,” wrote Foothill Gold Line CEO Habib Balian in an emailed response on Friday, March 24.

Newsom has indicated that he plans to reduce the $4 billion that was set aside for transit projects in the state budget. But Metro is lobbying him to keep the transportation funding pot whole.

“We are all prepared to do whatever it takes to make the state see these projects are worthy,” said L.A.  County Supervisor and Metro board member Kathryn Barger, whose district includes large parts of the San Gabriel Valley.

‘Greenwashing’ Allegations: Quemetco Deal To Pay Nonprofits In Toxic Settlement Criticized

When the California state Attorney General’s Office brought legal action in 2018 involving 29 violations of leaking hazardous waste at a car-battery recycling plant in City of Industry, nearby residents concerned about exposure and cancer risks were anticipating strong remedies.

But that’s not what happened.

A member of the public voice his concerns during a public meeting about the court settlement between Quemetco, Inc. battery-recycling company near Hacienda Heights and state agencies involving the release of cancer-causing air toxics and waste handling on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, SCNG, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Meredith Williams, director of the DTSC, speaks during a public meeting about the court settlement between Quemetco, Inc. battery-recycling company near Hacienda Heights and North Whittier, and state agencies involving the release of cancer-causing air toxics and toxic waste handling. Williams spoke at the beginning of a two-hour meeting on the topic, including on the controversial SEPs program, at the Hacienda Heights Community Center on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

The Quemetco battery-recycling facility on 15 acres in City of Industry, located at 720 S. Seventh Ave., May 31, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

A late December 2022 court settlement for Quemetco, Inc. approved by Attorney General Rob Bonta and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) required the company to pay $2.3 million in penalties, of which no amount was earmarked for repairs or toxic waste monitoring.

The Clean Air Coalition, made up of nearby residents of Hacienda Heights, Avocado Heights, La Puente, North Whittier and other areas, denounced the settlement as a slap on the wrist. Others said it used environmental groups to paint over the issues with a green sheen.

Byron Chan, attorney with Earth Justice, which is working with the Clean Air Coalition, said the Attorney General had the power to fine Quemetco tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars since it filed against the company. “When that lawsuit was filed it felt like DTSC was turning a page. Four years later the result of that lawsuit was nothing,” Chan said.

In defense of the settlement, DTSC said 27 of the 29 violations were fixed. But DTSC investigators reported that two major violations had not been resolved, involving hazardous waste leaking from storage areas and possibly migrating into neighborhoods, and installation of monitoring systems to detect toxic chemicals seeping into the underground aquifer — a drinking water source for at least one million residents of Los Angeles County.

“The settlement is a result of strong enforcement actions the department took,” said Meredith Williams, DTSC director, who spoke at a recent DTSC-sponsored public meeting on Feb. 8.

Quemetco said in a statement that it has invested $50 million in new pollution control equipment since 2008. “The company is proud to be the cleanest lead recycling facility in the world and it continually meets or exceeds all applicable environmental standards and requirements,” the company said.

But criticism and confusion continues to swirl around the settlement. Aside from the relatively modest fines, the focus has been on the unusual way the settlement was constructed.

DTSC used a relatively new, under-the-radar approach that environmental lawyers and residents have criticized as unusual, unhelpful, and insulting to residents living for years with exposures, or in this case, improperly managed.

Of the $2.3 million, half — about $1.15 million — went to hiring small, nonprofit organizations for non-specific educational programs, something that DTSC calls its Supplemental Environmental Projects or SEPs, used to offset defendant penalties. They also add a bonus action that goes beyond legal requirements, according to DTSC’s website.

The settlement paid $575,000 to the first SEP group, Nature For All, a Monterey Park-based organization that leads field trips to the mountains. The small group also works for access to the Angeles National Forest, and protecting local watersheds and open spaces, said Belén Bernal, executive director, in remarks made to the audience at the February meeting in Hacienda Heights.

Another $575,000 went to hire Oakland-based The California School-Based Health Alliance, which helps students improve their health and academic achievements. A local trustee with the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District said the school district was not consulted and does not know this group.

Residents and Earth Justice lawyers say the large amounts of money diverted to these organizations in lieu of traditional fines against Quemetco are excessive. On the state DTSC website, the overwhelming majority of SEPs listed involve considerably less than $500,000.

For example, in 2017, the Coalition For Clean Air in Los Angeles was awarded $35,000 to help install air pollution monitors around USC, part of a DTSC settlement using the SEP program, DTSC reported.

The grass-roots Coalition in Hacienda Heights said the large amounts of money going to the two SEPS in the Quemetco settlement could have been used to install air and water monitoring stations, or perform testing of children’s blood for lead, a compound produced by the melting of 600 tons of used lead-acid batteries per day.

Lead exposure can lead to impaired human brain function and learning disabilities, experts say.

Paying nonprofit groups more than half a million dollars each, and calling that a remedy, is an affront to a community dealing with violations from Quemetco for nearly two decades, said Angela Johnson Meszaros, managing attorney for the Community Partnerships Program at Earth Justice during an interview on March 8.

“The DTSC settlement didn’t do a thing that would directly result in reduced emissions or reduced impacts from the facility,” Johnson Meszaros said.

“In all of my 30 years doing this work, I have never seen anything like this,” she said.

When asked if it was an example of “greenwashing,” a process in which state agencies or corporations undertake small, unrelated green actions while ignoring the major environmental issues, Chan said: “I would unfortunately frame it that way.”

Johnson Meszaros said a SEP is supposed to relate to the issues in the lawsuit, in this case, hazardous waste exposure, lead exposure and also in a previous settlement, air toxics involving arsenic, a known human carcinogen. But neither the Oakland-based SEP or the local SEP has experience in the hazardous waste field or in air toxics, making the SEP-based settlement an example of the state agency simply taking cover or of a defendant avoiding harsher fines, she said.

“It was almost like they (DTSC) said: ‘We are going to pretend this is awesome and the community is going to fall for it,’” she said. “It is a striking failure on DTSC’s part to really address both Quemetco’s history of violations and the needs of the frontline communities.”

The Quemetco plant, in business since 1959, is the largest of its kind west of the Rockies and operates on 15 acres at 720 S. Seventh Ave. and employs 200 or more workers. It recycles about 10 million lead-acid regular car batteries a year as well as other lead scrap to make about 120,000 tons of reclaimed lead, according to its website.

Quemetco was forced to pay $600,000 in penalties for air pollution violations in May 2020. Among violations found at the plant was emission of lead, arsenic, and 1,3-butadiene, emitted into the air at levels that exceeded air quality rule limits, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which agreed to the settlement.

In 2004 and again in 2013, DTSC inspectors found soil with elevated lead concentration around the perimeter of Quemetco’s property. In 2018, inspectors ordered the cleanup of lead contamination in industrial facilities located near the facility. A 2016 investigation of 132 homes in Hacienda Heights, just south of Quemetco, found that 100 homes had lead levels high enough for further evaluation and might require potential cleanup.

Lead exposure limits the brain’s development and can cause kidney disease. Human exposure to lead, arsenic and 1,3-butadiene also can cause cancer.

“The policy on SEPs is that they’re supposed to have a nexus to the harms. But the choices DTSC made, I wonder if they have a proper nexus. They don’t reduce the exposures. They don’t do sampling of the soils,” Johnson Meszaros said.

DTSC says the use of SEPs benefits communities that are experiencing environmental harm and addresses environmental injustices. Using an outside nonprofit for related projects augments a settlement and improves public health, according to DTSC’s website.

Environmental lawyers who’ve brought lawsuits over environmental degradation or toxic exposures to residents but are not involved in the Quemetco case expressed varying views on the use of SEPs.

“I am in the inner circle of environmental lawyers in the state and I’ve never heard of this,” said Sabrina Venskus, an environmental land use attorney. “It is unusual.”

Geralyn Skapik, with the Skapik Law Group in Chino Hills, said a SEP can be effective if correctly applied. She remembered a case her firm settled that involved a defendant who drilled water wells but did not properly divert and treat toxic chemicals pulled out of the aquifer that killed fish in a nearby stream.

As part of the settlement, a SEP was hired to provide classes for technicians on safe and environmentally compliant ways of drilling water wells. “The classes were directly relevant to the harm that was caused,” she said, adding they prevented future toxic spills.

Johnson Meszaros said in some instances, a SEP is hired to perform actions that address the harms. But the Supplemental Environmental Projects approved by DTSC in the Quemetco case, she said, “Is not doing a thing that would directly result in reduced emissions or impacts from the facility.”

The DTSC has said the SEPs are “environmentally beneficial projects” that are part of an enforcement action. Nature For All has said it will help develop leaders “who care for and deserve access to nature and safe spaces.”

But many in the community say educating the community about the possible dangers of living near the City of Industry plant is work that has already been done.

In September 2019, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health sent nurses door-to-door to alert people of the dangers of lead exposure, and conducted voluntary blood testing for lead. The agency developed a brochure on ways residents can protect themselves from lead called “Living With Quemetco,” said Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez, coordinator with the local Coalition group.

Attempts to involve nonprofit groups to educate, inform or bring awareness doesn’t sit well with the Coalition members. “It is totally greenwashing,” Overmyer-Velazquez said. “They (DTSC) comes off looking good by funding these nonprofits.”

Susan Phillips, professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College and director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, has led efforts to stop or slow down development of warehouses in the Inland Empire on grounds that they add to air pollution and truck traffic.

Phillips said fighting cities, developers and state environmental agencies is often a losing battle. “All the settlements we’ve had don’t come close to mitigation for the project. They just shave the edges off it. It is disheartening for community members.”

But after more than two years of efforts, she has some advice for those living near Quemetco. “Our adage is fighting is winning. It is about continuing the fight.”

Want To Count Bighorn Sheep In The Forest? No Sleeping Required.

You don’t do this in your sleep.

No, this kind of sheep counting will be done upright and awake, by wide-eyed, intrepid volunteers scattered about the sweeping San Gabriel Mountains, equipped with pen, paper, clipboard and binoculars.

Unlike those fluffy, dream-like cotton balls you may number in your mind’s eye, these sheep are wild and spectacularly unique. These very real animals are Nelson’s bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis nelsoni, a tan-colored, hooved mammal with a crown of horns adorning their heads. They eat grasses along mountain outcroppings.

Two Nelson’s bighorn sheep climb the mountain outcropping near the Sheep Wilderness area, east of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest. (photo by Steve Scauzillo/SCNG)

A bighorn sheep atop a mountain cliff in the Angeles National Forest near the “Bridge To Nowhere” near the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. This is near the Bighorn Sheep Mountain Wilderness area, on the opposite side of the forest from Islip Saddle and the Highway 39 gap. (photo by Steve Scauzillo/SCNG)

A bighorn sheep stands on the side of a rock wall on November 27, 2017, near Banff, Alberta. (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

“These are one of the rarest hooved animals on the continent,” said Rebecca Barboza, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who has been studying these elusive creatures of the craggy San Gabriels for decades.

On Sunday, March 19, volunteers will be at the ready to conduct the 44th annual bighorn sheep ground survey in the Angeles National Forest and a western portion of the San Bernardino National Forest. That’s the day the U.S. Forest Service, in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be stationing people who have signed up and taken the training.

Volunteers must sign up online at You must take virtual training through Microsoft Teams the day before, on Saturday, March 18 at 6 p.m. Volunteers will learn where they’ll be stationed, what kind of gear to bring and what conditions to expect. Email for questions and more information.

Sheep spotters can choose between six locations. Those locations in the Angeles National Forest are: the closed part of Highway 39 at Islip Saddle about 27 miles north of Azusa and south of Highway 2; near the Bridge to Nowhere along the east fork of the San Gabriel River; at San Antonio Falls; and at Big Rock Creek near Wrightwood. In the San Bernardino National Forest, the two locations are both in the Lytle Creek area.

The volunteers will help biologists get a handle on how many bighorn sheep are in the San Gabriel Mountains. They are a fully protected species under the California Endangered Species law. Obtaining an estimated count keeps scientists aware of whether their numbers are rising, falling or staying the same, Barboza said.

“What an amazing opportunity to learn more about our local wildlife and learn about conservation,” said Dana Dierkes, spokesperson for the Angeles National Forest.

She said the volunteer slots will fill up fast so she advises anyone interested to sign up quickly.

The count used to be done with ground crews and spotters in helicopters. But in the last several years, the Forest Service did not fund the helicopter, so the bighorn estimate relies on ground counters, Barboza said.

About 417 bighorns are estimated to be living on the slopes of these rugged mountains, said Jeff Villepique, supervising biologist with CDFW on Dec. 22. There are only 5,000 bighorn sheep in all of California, he said.

Prior to the 1980s, the local population reached 740 sheep, which gave the San Gabriel Mountains the largest population of Nelson’s bighorn sheep in California. But the numbers fell in the early 1980s when vegetation grew along the rocks and sheep predators could hide more easily before making a kill, Barboza said.

Mountain lions, for example, were able to find more bighorns for food and the sheep numbers declined from over-predation, she said. The population decline fell to about 100 individual sheep, she said.

During the Grand Prix/Old Fire in 2003, the overgrown brush burned up, clearing the old vegetation and opening up the sight lines for the sheep. “They need sparse vegetation so they can view their predators,” Barboza said.

“The fire was tragic for the humans but as far as wildlife, it was greatly beneficial,” she said. “The new vegetation that grew afterward was more nutritious.”

Barboza said data collected on count day doesn’t cover the entire sheep range. Even though bighorn sheep are very rare, they are more easily spotted in the closed-in environment of the San Gabriel Mountains. A Sheep Wilderness Area has been designated in the Angeles for their habitat.

These sheep are not as endangered as their cousins, the bighorn sheep in eastern Riverside County and San Diego County, which are listed as federally endangered because they are geographically isolated. And the federally endangered bighorn in the Sierra Nevada are studied more often.

So the San Gabriel Mountains bighorn don’t get as much attention or as much study, Barboza said. And that makes the count even more important.

While the bighorn are sturdy animals, they are susceptible to strains of pneumonia carried by domestic livestock. If they run into domestic sheep they can contract the disease. This occurred in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in Riverside County, impacting the bighorn population, she said.

The Nelson’s bighorn came back in the news in December when Caltrans began a study on repairing a 4.4-mile gap in state Highway 39 made unpassable by rockslides 44 years ago. A completed highway would reconnect Highway 39 and the San Gabriel Valley floor with Highway 2, shortening the drive to ski areas and desert locations.

But the area where the road once was has become a haven for the sheep, Villepique said. It is a place where the ewes give birth to their lambs, he said. A new road would require mitigation such as a wildlife tunnel to prevent the death of even one sheep, according to state environmental law.

Knowing the numbers of bighorn and their locations is critical for their survival.

“I am trying to raise awareness. These bighorn sheep are very rare,” Barboza said.

LGBTQ Groups Say Easing Rules For Gay Blood Donors Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Many individuals from the LGBTQ community in Southern California remember getting the letter. The one that said they were prohibited from donating blood for life.

“Yeah, I was banned about 15 or 20 years ago,” said Frank Guzman on Feb. 21, a gay man who is president, co-founder and executive director of the Pomona Pride Center. “I went in with the intention to donate blood. I filled out a questionnaire and they said, ‘We don’t allow individuals who are gay to donate’.”

Frank Guzman is a co-founder of the Pomona Pride Center on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. “The Center,” opened in a space provided by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pomona. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG) On Jan. 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees the nation’s blood supply, issued draft guidelines that would allow gay men in monogamous relationships to donate blood. The proposal is aimed at increasing the number of potential blood donors and upping supplies while maintaining a safe product.

Many see it as an attempt to ease blanket restrictions that were placed during the 1980s AIDS epidemic on those who faced a potentially higher risk of spreading HIV.

The draft would do away with a requirement for men who have sex with men to abstain from sexual activity for a minimum of three months before being allowed to give blood. Instead, all potential donors would be screened with a new questionnaire that evaluates their individual risks for HIV based on sexual behavior, recent partners and other factors.

“We feel confident that the safety of the blood supply will be maintained,” FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks told the Associated Press.

While the draft rule was supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a letter to the FDA on Feb. 7, it has raised questions and more opposition than support from the LGBTQ community, who say the FDA proposal doesn’t erase the stigma placed on potential gay blood donors and retains decades-old bans based on sexual orientation alone.

One of those questions is whether those who received deferral letters banning them for life from giving blood will be allowed to donate under new guidelines. The issue was raised last month during a virtual meting with FDA officials, White House officials and LGBTQ leaders across the nation.

As a senior at Baldwin Park High School and an Associated Student Body member back in 2012, Camila Camaleon, at the time a gay male who is now a transgender female, remembers being unable to give blood at a school blood drive she organized as an 18-year-old.

After being asked about her sexual partners, she was turned away. The next day she received a letter invoking a general ban for life. “It was something that really impacted me,” said Cameleon, 28, the trans president of the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center.

Cameleon, who participated in the call with the FDA, asked whether those like her and Guzman would get letters rescinding the ban. She hopes the FDA will consider such a reversal.

Guzman, who served on the Pomona Unified School District board of trustees from December 2011 to December 2020, always voted against allowing Red Cross blood drives on school campuses, saying he didn’t want to support discriminatory practices.

“There was no reason for me to try again. My blood was not welcome,” Guzman said, echoing the feelings of most in the LGBTQ community today.

Joey Espinoza-Hernandez, director of policy and community building at the LGBT Center of Los Angeles, said that while the FDA is moving toward dismantling the bias, they need to go further, including reevaluating lifelong bans on some individuals.

“Our recommendation is to completely repeal the ban and trust the science,” Espinoza-Hernandez said on Feb. 21.

Gay rights groups have long opposed blanket restrictions on who can give blood, saying they are discriminatory. Medical societies including the American Medical Association have also said such exclusions are unnecessary given advances in technology to test blood for infectious diseases.

Dr. Michael Gottlieb, a staff physician at APLA Health (formerly known as AIDS Project Los Angeles), has worked with AIDS patients since the onset of the disease in the 1980s and was actor Rock Hudson’s doctor. As a young researcher at UCLA in 1981, Gottlieb was the first to identify and describe AIDS as a new disease, which led to a team of researchers in France identifying the virus in 1983.

The Pasadena resident was asked about the attempt by the FDA to ease restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men. He noted that blood used for transfusions has been screened for HIV since 1985.

Now, HIV testing is more sophisticated. Testers look for antibodies, antigens and the nucleic acid material unique to HIV, he said. Testing for nucleic acid is necessary because the presence of antibodies could show up days or weeks after the presence of HIV.

“The testing is definitive. The science supports relaxing the restrictions,” Gottlieb said on Feb. 20.

Regarding the removal of the abstinence period to replace it with a list of questions, he said, “I can see where people still view the questionnaire as stigmatizing.”

Under the new proposal, men who have sex with men will be asked if they have had new or multiple partners in the last three months. Those who answer affirmatively to either question and also report having anal sex would be barred from donating until a later date. The policy would also apply to women who have sex with gay or bisexual men.

Anyone who has ever tested positive for HIV would continue to be ineligible to donate blood, as would those on anti-retroviral drugs.

Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization that has long pushed to change the FDA policy, welcomed the change.

“We think these are good first steps in the right direction,” said Jose Abrigo, HIV project director for Lambda Legal who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “It removes the categorical restriction on men who have sex with men on donating blood and goes to a risk-based assessment.

“But it is not just queer men engaging in risky behavior. It should be applied to everyone so it could be fair,” he said on Feb. 20.

Guzman added, “This (rule change) doesn’t address the main concern. You can have multiple partners regardless of your sexuality. I know many straight people who are friends of mine that engage in promiscuous activity and donate blood anytime they want.”

One rule the gay activists want changed is the blanket ban on anyone taking pills to prevent HIV through sexual contact, at least until three months after their last dose. The FDA noted that the medication, known as PrEP, can delay the detection of the virus in screening tests.

Gottlieb said he understood the prohibition for those on PrEP, because an individual may not always take the pill daily as prescribed, leaving him vulnerable to HIV exposure. Others say the unwritten criticism is that men on PrEP have many sexual partners.

Again, it is Guzman’s experience that is not the case. “I know many individuals who are part of queer community who abstain from sex but are on PrEP and now they are excluded (from giving blood),” he said.

Abrigo said banning gay men who are using an FDA-approved prescription to prevent contracting HIV sends the wrong message. “We should not penalize folks for engaging in safe sex practices,” he said.

Since the COVID pandemic began three years ago, the nation’s blood supply has dropped considerably. The FDA and gay activist groups say the easing of restrictions could bring in more blood donors and increase the nation’s blood supply.

Gottlieb, who treated LGBTQ patients before the AIDS outbreak, said many were regular blood donors. “Gay men as a group were generous blood donors. These were patients who regularly gave blood in the pre-AIDS era,” he said. “They represent a significant percentage of the potential male blood donor pool.”

Abrigo sees a benefit to all if the changes are implemented.

“There is a blood shortage in the United States. The more we can expand it, or make the factors more inclusive without undermining the risk to the blood supply, the more beneficial to all,” he said.

FDA regulators will take public comments on the proposal until the end of March before beginning to finalize the guidelines.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

State Bill Would Ask Transportation Agencies To Study Crime, Safety On Transit

If you don’t study it, you can’t fix it.

That’s the premise behind proposed legislation authored by an Orange County state senator that would direct the top 10 transportation agencies in California to survey users of public transportation about safety, sexual harassment, and racial and gender-based discrimination.

Senate Bill 434, introduced on Monday, Feb. 13 by state Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, would order transit agencies to find out what kind of harassment, threats or assaults riders experience or fear — and where. A key focus would be on women of color including Asian-American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The information would be used to address safety issues ranging from street harassment that can cause people to avoid public transit entirely, to threats and hate crimes.

Min says he hopes to reverse the decline of women using public transit because they don’t feel safe or comfortable on a bus or train, or waiting at a station.

“It is important to understand who gets targeted, when and where. When we don’t have data, we don’t know what the answer is,” Min said during an interview on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Today, I’m proud to join @StopAAPIHate and announce #SB434. My bill requires California’s top 10 public transit systems to collect survey data as a critical step towards improving ridership safety, addressing street harassment, and bringing riders back to public transit. 1/

— Senator Dave Min (@SenDaveMin) February 13, 2023

He authored related legislation last year, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, that taps the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University to create a survey about transit safety, which transit agencies will distribute and administer.

His twin legislation will make it easier and less costly for agencies to study the broad problem, he said.

The agencies involved are Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), LA Metro, Long Beach Transit, City of Los Angeles DOT, San Francisco Muni, Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (BART), Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Sacramento Regional Transit District and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

“Who is targeted?” Min asked. “When and where, and in what areas? Are there certain (train or bus) lines where this happens? The ‘why,’ you may start inferring, but we think women and girls get targeted more.”

A report by Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit group, looked at 11,500 hate incidents reported during 2021 and 2022, and found that 67% of anti-AAPI hate incidents involved harassment such as verbal or written hate speech or inappropriate gestures.

“When we see these problems occurring, with all women, including AAPI, people of color and the LGBTQ communities, it is a public health issue,” said Candice Cho, managing director of policy and counsel at AAPI Equity Alliance based in Los Angeles. “Because it changes our behavior. It causes anxiety and trauma.”

Female ridership on LA Metro buses fell from 53% in early 2020 to 49% last year according to a survey taken from March to May of 2022. And female ridership on trains dropped from 46% to 44%. Also, in a Metro customer survey, safety issues listed by female rail riders made up 55% of responses about what needs improvement.

Public transit agencies including LA Metro are struggling to return ridership to pre-pandemic levels. Min says anecdotal evidence indicates many people are not riding because they are scared or have had a bad customer experience that keeps them away.

He and his family were riding a train toward Inglewood and SoFi Stadium recently when a man who appeared to have a shotgun and a knife inside his jacket glared at them menacingly and briefly followed them as they exited the train, Min said.

“It was unnerving,” Min said. “That is the kind of experience a lot of people report. Public spaces should be spaces that feel safe. That is an important principle.”

While safety on public transit is the No. 1 issue his twin bills are trying to tackle, increasing transit ridership is an overall goal. In his district in Orange County there is no inter-city rail service but some people take buses, he said. As Orange County gets more crowded, he said, he wants more people to feel safe on public transit.

“As Orange County becomes more congested, we are looking at more public transit. More people will take it in the future,” Min said.

Also, his constituents in Costa Mesa and Irvine may want to use LA Metro trains and buses to get to concerts and sporting events in L.A. County, or use BART and SF Muni when traveling in the Bay Area.

Min said LA Metro supported his previous bill and he hopes the major transportation agencies will support SB 434. But one issue is its cost. He hopes to find funding for transit agencies in the state budget, to help pay to  distribute the surveys and move resources into place to address safety.

“The cost is the biggest barrier (to the bill),” he said.

LA Wins Again In The Battle For Light-Rail Dollars; Inland Cities​ Demand Answers

Two weeks after failing to secure state grant dollars that would have completed a first-ever Los Angeles-to-San Bernardino County light-rail line, supporters from both counties are seething after learning the project shockingly received zero dollars from the state transportation agency.

The Jan. 31 announcement from the California State Transportation Authority (CalSTA) to not fund the L Line (formerly Gold) extension another 3.2 miles from Pomona to Montclair prompted numerous theories as to why the would-be historic project was snubbed.

Glendora-to-Montclair project. The extension of the Gold Line light-rail will cost $2.16 billion. A contract was signed on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, to go to Pomona. But the extension to continue to Claremont and Montclair needs about $758 million more. Cities and local state leaders failed to secure the state surplus funding on Jan. 31, 2023. They are seeking answers and looking for other fund sources. (courtesy of Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority)

Construction project on the L Line (formerly known as the Gold Line) where it passes through San Dimas on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. Funds to add the line into Claremont and Montclair were denied for a third time on Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. On Jan. 31, 2023, supporters failed for the third time to get funding for the next extension into Claremont, and ending in Montclair. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

Map shows route of extension of the L Line currently under construction to Pomona, to be completed in 2025. The portion to Claremont and Montclair is unfunded. (courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority).

Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority hosted a photo opportunity at the Glendora Station for local officials on Monday, May 17. (Photo courtesy of Metro)

A new study from Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) shows how its L Line, formerly the Gold Line, and Metrolink would link up for the first time at three upcoming stations. (Courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

An LA bias? Montclair City Manager Edward Starr pointed to what he sees as an L.A. bias from the state agency that favors splashy, L.A. city and L.A. County rail projects over any project that serves San Bernardino County commuters.

“It is time for the state to recognize that the consistent failure in delivering light rail to San Bernardino County continues to push the perception that the County does not receive fair consideration from the state when it comes to the delivery of tax dollars,” Starr wrote in an email on Feb. 1.

He backed up his claim by citing voter approval last November of Measure EE that gives the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and other elected representatives authority to investigate alleged shortfalls, and advocate to receive “equitable share of state funding and resources.”

The voter-approved measure includes secession from the state as a possible solution.

Peering into the ‘black box’ The Transit and Intercity Rail City Capital Program pot had $3.7 billion for the entire state for this funding cycle, said Marty Greenstein, assistant deputy secretary for communications for CalSTA. The agency awarded $2.5 billion to 16 transit projects in the state.

L Line supporters could not get a reason why their project was skipped, with some calling the CalSTA process “a black box.”

“We are working on getting some understanding on why we did not receive funds,” Metro Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian told his board on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Through LA Metro, the Gold Line Authority was asking for $798 million, the total cost. It had been turned down twice before, in October 2021 and March 2022, for general fund dollars when the state had large budget surpluses. The third and most recent denial was from a competitive grant program that stemmed from a $98 billion state surplus.

When asked for reasons why this project, planned for nearly 25 years to reach Montclair, was not funded, Greenstein replied: “It is competing against a lot of other projects. There is only so much money going around.”

While he could not name the names of those who dole out billions in state tax dollars for some projects, but deny others, he said the decision is made by a panel within Caltrans’ Division of Rail and Mass Transportation. “That’s who does the heavy lifting,” he said.

What makes a worthy rail project? He said the Caltrans panel analyzes applications to determine if they meet the state’s criteria. A list of criteria include: reduction of vehicle miles traveled, reduction of greenhouse gases caused by converting single-car drivers into mass transit users, and connectivity to other transit lines.

The L Line’s stations in Pomona, Claremont and Montclair are the only three that would also have Metrolink (San Bernardino-to-LA) passenger rail stations, a unique design that would increase ridership on both systems and produce interconnectivity, studies show. The Claremont and Montclair L Line stations would add 8,000 daily boardings or about half of the line’s total adjusted ridership, the Authority reported.

“By getting it to Claremont and Montclair, these last stations will generate the biggest riders benefits,” said Claremont Mayor Ed Reece, who chairs the Construction Authority board.

With the addition of the L Line electric train, Metrolink boardings would triple in Montclair. Also commuters from the Inland Empire who drive the 210, 10 and 60 eastward every morning to jobs in Los Angeles County, and westerly back home, would have a less expensive and quicker mass transit option.

Completion of the line to Montclair would take about 15,000 car trips off the roads each day and reduce 26.7 million vehicle miles travelled annually, eliminating 1.75 metric tons of carbon emissions that add to global climate change. The project would create 5,500 jobs and generate $860 million in economic output as well as $13 million in tax revenues, Balian said.

Losing out to Inglewood What surprised many was the $407.4 million given for a 1.6-mile people mover from LA Metro’s new K Line to SoFi Stadium, a football venue home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, as well as to the Kia Forum and the Intuit Dome (LA Clippers professional basketball team’s future home). It was the second time it received a state grant, the first occurring in 2020.

Losing out to a project that serves football and basketball fans over one that studies show would take single-car commuters from western San Bernardino County off the 210, 10 and 60 freeways to reach employment venues in Pasadena, downtown Los Angeles and eventually, Long Beach, seemed wrong to project supporters.

“I wonder how much influence the Rams and Chargers had on the governor’s office,” asserted Montclair Mayor John Dutrey on Feb. 6. Of course, it would not be surprising that these football teams would lobby for the Inglewood project. Likewise, Montclair, Claremont, all the eastern cities of LA County and every legislator in the San Gabriel Valley and some in the Inland Empire lobbied for the Pomona-to-Montclair line completion to no avail.

Some point to the benefits of the Inglewood project application sent in on its own, apart from LA Metro’s application, perhaps bypassing a log-jam of projects contained in Metro’s application.

The L Line extension ($798 million), along with the East San Fernando Valley Light Rail project ($600 million) and the West Santa Ana Branch project (from L.A. into southeast L.A. county) ($500 million) were the three projects included with asked-for amounts in LA Metro’s combined application for TIRCP funding. Only the East San Fernando Valley line in the city of L.A. received money, the largest award of any project in the funding cycle.

One reason was because without a state “match,” the San Fernando Valley project would lose a $909 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, Greenstein cited.

Likewise, the Inglewood people mover was also promised a $784 million grant from the FTA. The state placed a greater emphasis on these projects in order to leverage federal funding, Greenstein explained.

Federal projects get priority L Line projects and extensions, nearly 100% funded by local tax dollars from measures approved by L.A. County voters to tax themselves to build mass transit and alleviate congestion on freeways, were not given high priority.

“CalSTA heavily weighted projects at risk of losing federal funding. They looked at that more heavily over local funding. That’s my perception of it,” said Reece, Claremont’s mayor.

Dutrey said LA Metro and the Gold Line Authority made a mistake in not aligning the extension project for federal funding, particularly in light of the recently passed federal infrastructure law worth $1.2 trillion. The city of Montclair has asked for the project to undergo federal environmental review, as an addition to state clearance. Or, for a bill in Congress to allow existing state environmental approval to satisfy federal funding agencies.

“I believe that Metro made a huge mistake by not applying for federal funds for the Gold Line (to Claremont and Montclair),” said Dutrey. “This project should have been federalized.” He said if it had federal dollars, it may have received state dollars, as did those other projects.

“I kind of feel another big nail went into the coffin last Tuesday (Jan. 31),” he said.

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who helped plan the original Gold Line from Los Angeles to Pasadena, believes CalSTA saw the three Metro projects totaling $1.9 billion as too much, exceeding the Southern California allotment of $1.3 billion.

“They couldn’t give us full funding because it was over the $1.3 billion. That is the argument,” Holden said in an interview on Feb. 9.

Other effects If the project’s eastern terminus is Pomona, that could cause an influx of homeless who are forced to exit trains after midnight. Cities with end-of-line stations in Azusa, Long Beach and Santa Monica have complained about the homeless leaving trains and wandering the streets.

“We’re having conversations now around what can we do to help support not just end of the line stations, but all the stations’ ” said Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval, who is a member of the LA Metro board.

Montclair City Councilmember Bill Ruh said those making decisions on funding don’t realize the growth of housing in the Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario areas, where the 210 and 10 freeways pass through. Since the extension of the 210 into the Inland Empire, it has become jammed with San Bernardino County commuters traveling into the San Gabriel Valley and eastern San Fernando Valley.

“Many of the legislators don’t fully understand,” he said. “They look at a map and see Rancho Cucamonga and Upland and say ‘it can’t take them long to get to work.’ But just look at the 10 and 210 traffic.”

Based on two decades of planning for the light-rail to the expansive Montclair Transit Center, about 1,000 housing units have already been built near the proposed station. Another 1,400 are in development and its possible another 6,000 planned could be in jeopardy.

Montclair’s City Manager Ed Starr said the project, once scheduled to be completed in 2025, then 2028, could be pushed back to the early 2030s if a federalization process is undertaken.

But Balian, who doesn’t see federalization as a worthy approach, said he’s seeking funds from Metro to begin early construction work on the extension, including grade crossings and utility relocation, in anticipation that full funding could be granted next year.

“The state has bought into the program, building it all the way to Montclair. We don’t want to waste time,” he said.

Staff writers Javier Rojas and Jordan Darling contributed to this article.