Making Metro a driving force for improving quality of life

20150723_092650_resizedSupervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas took over as chairman of the board at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday, and laid out his vision for making public transit a “driving force for improving the quality of life in Los Angeles County.”

“With the help of voters who generously committed to supporting the build-out of our transit system, and the riders we serve every day, Metro is on a mission to invest billions of dollars over the coming decades to make Los Angeles County’s public transit system one that really helps  people get where they need to go,” he told a packed boardroom at Metro headquarters adjacent to Union Station.

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Ongoing construction of Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line

“We can accomplish this by remembering three basic principles: riders come first; we are building a system for tomorrow; and transportation will drive economic development,” the supervisor added.

With funding from Measure R, a voter-approved half-cent sales tax to be collected through 2039, Metro is leading a dramatic expansion of the county’s public transit system. It’s the most ambitious transportation investment in the region since freeways were built half a century ago.

“And we owe it to all Angelenos to deliver projects safely, on time, and on budget,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

He added the board also has an obligation to ensure Metro’s long-term fiscal integrity, improve on-time service, and attract a new generation of riders. Finally, he called for vigilance in caring for an aging system, paying special attention to customer service, and encouraging the hiring or local workers and small and disadvantaged businesses.

Metro’s chairmanship rotates among the members of the Board of Directors every year, to enhance representation of all LA County geographic areas. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas succeeded Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Metro’s The Source website reported Thursday that several projects will keep the board busy, noting the second phase of the Expo Line to Santa Monica and the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa are both nearing the end of construction, with early testing now underway.

Meanwhile, construction is in full swing on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Purple Line Extension section one, and the Regional Connector. According to The Source, Metro is also in the process of updating its long-range plan, looking at a potential ballot measure for Nov. 2016 to raise more money for transportation projects.

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Willowbrook is On the Move

For many who call it home, Willowbrook is best described in contradictions: urban and rural, industrial and residential, a small town in a big city. For Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, it’s a place brimming with promise.

Willowbrook’s four square miles are in the midst of unprecedented investment, with the state-of-the-art Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital – to be dedicated August 7 – as the centerpiece.

Still to come are multimillion-dollar renovations to the Rosa Parks Metro station; a new police station, library and senior center; and parks and streetscape improvements for Wilmington Avenue – all of which will complement recent upgrades to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus.

A new consensus is emerging: Willowbrook is on the move.

Historic Vote to Raise Wages and Crack Down on Wage Theft

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Hundreds of workers ask the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for wage hikes and wage theft protections.

After listening to several hours of sometimes emotional public testimony, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion to give workers their first living wage increase since 2007.

The Board also approved his and Supervisor Hilda Solis’ motion to crack down on wage theft, as well as Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s motion – which he voted for – to gradually raise the minimum wage throughout the county’s unincorporated areas to $15/hour.

“It is imperative that we address income inequality in Los Angeles County, not only by raising both the minimum wage and the living wage, but also by cracking down on wage theft,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s the just thing to do.”

“Current minimum and living wage standards are so insufficient that many workers – even those with full-time jobs – don’t earn enough to cover their families’ basic needs, and must rely on safety net programs administered by the county and funded by taxpayers,” he added.

2MZ_5564Living wage is the minimum compensation that companies must pay their employees to secure contracts with Los Angeles County to perform cafeteria, janitorial, landscaping and other low-wage functions.

The county’s living wage ordinance affects more than 220 contracts employing about 4,200 workers. Established in 1999, the living wage has increased only once – eight years ago.

Currently, workers receive an hourly living wage of $9.64 with health insurance or $11.84 without health insurance, for an annual take-home pay of $20,051.20 or $24,627.20, respectively, if they worked 40 hours a week.

Under Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion, their pay would increase to:

• $13.25 per hour by 2016
• $14.25 per hour by 2017
• $15.00 per hour by 2018
• $15.79 per hour by 2019
• and annually thereafter based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

To help ensure that employers pay the mandated rate, the board voted unanimously Tuesday to look into strengthening the county’s efforts against wage theft, examples of which include workers being paid less than the minimum wage and being denied overtime pay, and meal and rest breaks.

“Wage theft is a crime that disproportionately affects people of color, immigrants and women,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We must protect the workers slated for wage increases by developing an innovative, collaborative and vigorous enforcement effort.”

“Wage theft should not be tolerated any more than other forms of criminal activity,” he added. “I hope the business community will partner with us, and not criticize this effort as anti-business or burdensome regulation or intrusion.”

Aside from authoring or co-authoring the living wage and wage theft ordinances approved Tuesday, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in June successfully carried a motion to raise the poverty wage, the hourly rate paid to In-Home Supportive Services caregivers who look after blind, disabled or elderly patients, allowing them to stay at home instead of going into institutionalized care subsidized by the state and county governments.

The differences among minimum, living and poverty wages are explained here.

Setting the Record Straight on the Inglewood Oil Field

oil-fieldPrompted by the release of a state report on hydraulic fracking in California, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas issued a letter to the California Council on Science and Technology noting his concern that the report may have not taken into consideration the extensive amount of environmental review and monitoring that has been done, and is required on an ongoing basis, to ensure that the Inglewood Oil Field, one of the largest urban oil fields in the nation, continues to operate in a manner that protects the health, safety and wellbeing of surrounding residents.

“I want to make it very clear to the residents of my district,” said the Supervisor. “There is no hydraulic fracking happening in the Inglewood Oil Field and there are currently no plans to do so.  The Inglewood Oil Field is unique precisely because of the extensive regulations, monitoring and continuing research that makes the public’s health and safety the first priority.”

One of the main concerns highlighted in the council’s report addresses ground water issues. At the Inglewood Oil Field, the ground water is monitored on a quarterly basis and no contamination has been identified. In fact, the majority of the wells are dry and it has been determined by experts that the wells underneath the field are not being tapped for water supply.

Additional information, such as a comprehensive peer-reviewed community health assessment, a study of the impacts of hydraulic fracking, as well as a multi-year long air quality monitoring study of the perimeter of the oil field, has been completed an finds no significant health or environmental impacts that could be correlated with drilling activities. These documents, and other required reports can be reviewed at http://planning.lacounty.gov/baldwinhills.