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Money(ball)! / Law Talk Crossover: Funicular Fight, Part 2

Or “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?” or “Promotion through official channels.”

For those keeping score:


Last time:

Next time, we were going to cover the alleged issues of gentrification in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood and analyze the lawsuit that has been filed as to this ongoing project, but then there was a development that occurred, which merits immediate discussion. See you then.

Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss?

As discussed last time and previously, Frank McCourt is funding a new venture that would construct a gondola system from Union Station to Dodger Stadium, by way of Chinatown, in Los Angeles, which would be completed at some point before 2027/2028.

However, a nonprofit Climate Resolve stated that they have created a new subsidiary to take ownership of the proposed gondola project from Frank McCourt. I initially had a pun all lined up referencing a classic Who song, but after reviewing the relevant documents on the California Secretary of State's website, everything in this regard looks to be in order. The nonprofit’s subsidiary, Zero Emissions Transit, is bound by 501(c)(3) tax rules, which if it were to violate hypothetically, you would likely have state and federal tax officials breathing down the neck of the agent on file.

It is worth noting two very important facts as of now:

  1. No one is accusing anyone involved at the nonprofit subsidiary, Zero Emissions Transit, or the parent nonprofit Climate Resolve of doing anything wrong or improper in any way, especially as related to the Dodgers’ gondola project, at this time.
  2. While there may be an agreement between Frank McCourt and Zero Emissions Transit, or the parent nonprofit Climate Resolve, I could not find evidence of it anywhere. That said, such a document would likely not be a public filing and barring exceptional circumstances would not be on file with the California Secretary of State’s office.

However, if something were to change, I will keep an eye on it and I will report and write about it.

Promotion through official channels

Previously, I was going to break down the litigation that had been filed against the Gondola project and fill in background information in an easy-to-understand manner. I figured that I would point out that the next opportunity to publicly comment on the Dodgers’ Gondola project as there would be nothing of note until the Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) was released, which would be the next step of the project.

But then, I saw something that made me raise an eyebrow on Twitter:

Now, the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit (LA ART) project has its own Twitter account, and it can tweet whatever it would like in support of the project. No one is criticizing or complaining about that fact.

However, when the Dodgers' own official Twitter account sent out the above tweet, especially considering the change of ownership of the project, I found it curious. But when I saw the subsequent tweet, how could I not view the tweet as a tacit endorsement of the project:

I also noticed a series of local news stories in the Los Angeles area about the installation of the prototype gondola car at Dodger Stadium. I suppose it was probably too much of me to expect an actual follow-up question to the installation, rather than treating the gondola car’s presence as an excuse to serve up talking points in which it felt like I was watching a commercial for the gondola project. Silly me for having expectations of others.

In case you were wondering, the Dodgers did not tweet about Elon Musk’s vaporware Tunnel to Nowhere project as far as I am able to tell. Frankly, with the recent revelation that Musk’s hyperloop was nothing but a distraction intended to get legislators to cancel the California High-Speed rail project, it is not surprising that the Dodgers organization did not put its weight behind Musk’s proposed tunnel.

[Author’s note: Paris Marx is a Canadian technology writer and host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast. Paris is also the author of Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation. The highlighted portion is where Musk confirmed his intentions regarding the Hyperloop to his biographer.]

Considering that the Dodgers have not had the best history as to civic projects on land owned by racial minorities, I found it shocking, albeit not surprising, that the Dodgers were putting some energy into backing the Gondola project. It would be one thing if the Dodgers were just tweeting about it, I could understand that action. But to host a prototype gondola car on stadium grounds is a clear declaration of support for this project.

Public Commenting is Open

The people running this project are seemingly convinced that community outreach will be enough to get the city of Los Angeles and its citizens to support this project, opposition in Chinatown and elsewhere be damned.

There is a clear signal for all of us as the Dodgers have decided to put their weight behind this project. They have the right to do so. But as fans, we have the right to speak up and say “not in my name, you don’t!” Public comment for the Project has reopened until the middle of December.

A representative of Zero Emissions Transit stated that he wants everyone “to be part of the process.” Well, allow us to oblige the man. Let us be part of the process and make our voices heard.

  • You can email your comments to Metro staff at LAART@metro.net
  • Metro is taking comments by phone at (213) 922-6913
  • You can write a physical letter with your comments and send them to:

Cory Zelmer- Deputy Executive Officer

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

One Gateway Plaza, Mail Stop 99-22-6

Los Angeles, CA 90012

As always, be respectful and polite — but regardless of your position, now is the opportunity to make your voice heard. But before you comment, especially if you live in the affected area, there is a question that has been on my mind.

Frankly, there is a single question about this project that needs to be asked, and yet no one involved in this project has been, or likely will be able to answer.

The one question that everyone should be asking about the Dodgers’ gondola project

In my mind, there is an obvious, apparent critical flaw of the gondola that pretty much eliminates any rationale to support the gondola project.

There are generally 81 home games in any given season, we can agree on that fact, right?

So what the heck is this gondola supposed to be doing the other 284 days of the year?!?

Buses, gasoline, electric, or otherwise, by their very nature, are not fixed to a set route, unlike a fixed gondola route. I like Dodger Stadium as much as the next person, it’s not PNC Park in Pittsburgh, but c’est la vie. As of right now, there is no reason to visit the stadium in the offseason barring the occasional concert/event one might want to go to. Does that occasional occurrence demand the installation of an entirely new infrastructure system?

And the end of the day, Metro, the Dodgers, or anyone with the financial resources could buy buses (electric, gas, or otherwise) to supplement Dodger Stadium Express today and it would improve access to Dodger Stadium by increasing the availability of public transit to and from the stadium. That’s the thing about buses; they can go anywhere there is a road. If you went full electric for the buses serving Dodger Stadium Express, those buses would be zero-emission, would they not?

Moreover, while I understand the idea of using infrastructure as a stepping stone for future projects, for example, expanding the rail capacity from Fresno to Bakersfield in California’s High-Speed Rail Project, there is a key distinction between that project and the gondola.

As an explanation, currently, freight companies own much of the rail that exists in the California Central Valley, and, as such, the freight trains have right of way on the train tracks. Moreover, many portions of rail are single-track, which means that if you decided to take a train from Fresno to Bakersfield on Amtrak, you would need to be prepared to have the train pull over multiple times to let the freight trains pass to the point where you wonder why you did not just drive in the first place. By adding an additional track, one could conceivably get from point A to Point B on this portion of the Amtrak San Joaquin line with far less difficulty.

However, the proposed gondola would be the first step in an entirely new system - a literal ticket to nowhere for approximately 280 days a year. If the goal is to use this project as a backdoor to creating a new neighborhood in the vicinity of Dodger Stadium, like the one in Atlanta or the one being proposed in Kansas City, the backers of this project need to have the intellectual honesty to say so.

I guarantee you that the folks in both Chinatown and Elysian Park would likely have something to say if my premise were the case. Absent that supposition, buses make the gondola project a cool toy, a luxury good instead of an actual civic need.

If there was a neighborhood ala Wrigleyville in Chicago or the Battery in Atlanta directly by Dodger Stadium, then I could understand building an alternate method of public transport to get to and from the area. But no such neighborhood exists and this gondola system would be essentially unused when the Dodgers are not in town or when there are no events at Dodger Stadium.

Why should the citizens of Los Angeles pay for such a project absent the need for it? Why should the residents of Los Angeles’ Chinatown or Elysian Park have to suffer or be put out, by a proposed infrastructure project that is clearly not designed for them?

This project has been designed for people just like me: out-of-towners with disposable income to go to Dodger games who may not want to rent a car or rely on infrastructure to get to and from the stadium. I cannot speak for you, but I will speak for me: no bloody thank you.

If my supposed convenience to get to Dodger Stadium is to be had on the backs of low-income and minority neighborhoods, I will continue to take the offered bus, thank you very much. I do not need the gimmick of soaring over people’s houses when there is already an existing public infrastructure that does the same thing.

Even if the gondola, as proposed, is supposed to be a proof-of-concept design to facilitate more gondola usage throughout the region, has anyone addressed the fundamental difference in Los Angeles compared to other cities that use gondolas in a more limited fashion in hilly areas where buses and trains cannot feasibly go because of a lack of road access.

By definition, buses are currently able to go to and from Dodger Stadium, because you can currently drive to the stadium. This assertion is based on the fact that in every home game at Dodger Stadium, where the parking lot becomes a sea of misery unless you planned and brought a book. Or if you are taking Dodger Stadium Express to get to and from the stadium. Or if you left early and considering how much tickets and parking cost — why would you leave early?!?

As such, the simplest solution would be to use more buses to expand the capacity of the Dodger Stadium Express and then repurpose those buses during the offseason. But that expansion would not require any additional infrastructure. There would be no need for a company backed by Frank McCourt if you were going to simply use more buses. If the gondola is the answer to a question, then what is the actual question being asked? From my perspective, the gondola is the answer to a question no one was (or should be) asking.

Now that the Dodgers have tacitly endorsed this project, we have but one moral obligation. As Dodger fans, we have a moral obligation to oppose this project. Metro, the Dodgers, or whoever is tasked to do public outreach can speak until they are (figuratively) blue in the face: facts are facts, and there is no proffered reason that can justify this project.

What can we do in the interim? If you agree with my arguments, please share this article as far and as wide as you can. Anytime that the Dodgers decide to tweet about the project, post this article in reply and demand that the Dodgers do better.

If it were possible to contact LA ART directly, apart from their Twitter feed, I would direct you to voice your concerns there.

If you want to contact someone from LA Metro about the project, in addition as where to comment publicly, here is the contact information for the public relations officer assigned to this project:

Michael Cortez, Community Relations Manager

laart@metro.net

213.418.3423

If I were directly going to be impacted by this project, I would give him a call or email, if I were so inclined. I would be respectful and I would encourage everyone I know to make some good trouble and spread the word.

As I wrote earlier, the public comment period is now open. And if you were so inclined and still felt the need to get involved, maybe you should go here.

Time to Recess

Next time, the Draft Environmental Review has been published, so we will go over that, as well as the meeting times so that you can make your voices heard in the Los Angeles area.

Depending on how long that takes, we will finally cover the alleged gentrification issues in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood and analyze the lawsuit that has been filed as to this ongoing project. See you then.

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