Signature Projects

The Orange Line: Moving forward

April 30, 2009

In late 2005, on the day the Orange Line made its maiden trip along Canoga Avenue, the Los Angeles Times gave the instantly popular busway a nickname: “The Napkin Line.”

As the paper correctly noted in its rave review, the line’s route through the San Fernando Valley had been sketched on a napkin by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as he and other elected officials and transit planners flew back from a 1999 fact-finding mission in Curitiba, Brazil. There, they’d seen the stunning efficiency of a high-occupancy bus system that used dedicated roadways and timed traffic signals to keep the buses moving swiftly through intersections—at a fraction of the cost of burrowing a subway tunnel.

Today, the Orange Line is mirroring that success. In fact, the system has proved such a hit with commuters that an extension of the 14-mile route is now in the works, with completion scheduled for 2012. This new 4-mile segment will link commuters with the Chatsworth Metrolink station.

The Orange Line—named in tribute to the Valley’s early agricultural roots—currently runs from Warner Center to North Hollywood, where riders can catch the Red Line subway to Downtown L.A. or points elsewhere. To speed up the operation, riders purchase fares before boarding, as they do for the region’s subways.

So far, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures, the Orange Line’s 35 super-sized buses have transported nearly 33 million passengers, an average of more than 7 million a year—far exceeding the agency’s initial conservative predictions. As gas prices soared in the summer of 2008, the Orange Line scorched one ridership record after another.

Transit planners also were determined to create a commuting experience along the old Union Pacific rights-of-way that addressed the concerns and interests of the broader community. Among other things, the MTA:

• Planted 5,000 trees and 800,000 environmentally-friendly native plants along the route.

• Built 8 miles of new bike and pedestrian paths that are fully lit, with racks and lockers at all stations.

• Commissioned 15 California artists to design artwork unique to each station.

• Erected more than 5 miles of sound walls with an anti-graffiti design.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky says he had few doubts that the scribbles on his airline napkin would one day materialize into one of the nation’s great transit achievements.

“When I met with Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner, the genius behind his city’s busways, I asked him to what did he attribute the success of his transit system. His response is etched in my memory: ‘Have the courage to try simple solutions.’

“The Orange Line is a simple idea that has proven to be the most successful busway in the United States. It was a transit solution that was staring us in the face, and all we needed was the courage to build it.”

Sun Valley health clinic

April 8, 2009

Sun Valley is ground zero for Los Angeles County’s health care crisis.

Nearly one-third of the population in this largely working-class community is uninsured and more than 80% of children come from families living well below the poverty line—numbers that are particularly alarming given the high rates of asthma, obesity and diabetes in the area.

For years, the closest clinic was three miles away, in Pacoima, and was always packed because of the huge demand for free and low-cost services.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky found that situation unacceptable. He was determined to give the mostly Latino residents of Sun Valley their own clinic, an accomplishment realized in April, 2008, through an innovative collaboration that could serve as a model elsewhere in the county.

The Sun Valley Health Center—located on the campus of the Sun Valley Middle School—today provides an array of primary care and dental services through more than a dozen bilingual medical and support staff. While the Los Angeles Unified School District supplied the property, L.A. County paid $7.5 million to build the 11,000-square-foot Mission-style facility. The non-profit Northeast Valley Health Corp. operates the clinic with its own medical staff. The UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, meanwhile, conducts asthma screenings and education programs.

In its first year of operation, the health center logged about 3,200 medical visits and expects twice that many in its second year. More than 200 dental visits were provided to some 100 patients. Also launched was the Women, Infants and Children Program, a supplemental food and nutrition program for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women and youngsters under age five.

A full-time Community Relations Specialist is available on-site to help enroll eligible families in low or no cost health insurance programs such as Medi-Cal or Healthy Families. In addition, a representative from Neighborhood Legal Services is there once a week to answer questions or concerns about health care rights, eligibility for public benefits, fair housing, environmental health, domestic violence and immigration.

“Sun Valley is a neighborhood in the Valley that doesn’t get the kind of attention other neighborhoods get,” says Supervisor Yaroslavsky. “Hopefully with this clinic, we’re going to change that.”

Project 50

April 7, 2009

A groundbreaking pilot program aimed at helping Skid Row’s fifty most vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals has concluded its first year with a series of encouraging results that hold promise for a dramatic expansion of the effort.

Initiated by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the Project 50 program draws upon an unprecedented collective of government and private agencies to provide permanent supportive housing, medical assistance, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and other vital services to individuals facing the greatest chance of death on the street.

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Eddie Givens, formerly known on Skid Row as "Wild, Wild West," is one of Project 50's early success stories. Pictured here before and after he was recruited into the pilot program.

Participants were identified through a massive outreach that ranked them based on their risk of mortality. The first-year results—provided during a February 4th briefing of more than 100 homeless services professionals from the public and private sectors—suggested that not only were most of the targeted individuals faring better but that the broader public was benefiting as well.

Among other things, the program preliminarily suggests that the chronically homeless are not “service-resistant” and want to move into housing and that intensive medical care and drug abuse services save tax dollars that would otherwise be spent on emergency room visits and jail.

In light of the encouraging findings, Supervisor Yaroslavsky set a goal for Project 50’s second and final year to increase the ranks of participants to 500 from throughout the county.

Here’s a Project 50 PowerPoint that provides deeper details of the program.

See news coverage here:
Steve Lopez, “Smart Spending Skid Row Program,” Los Angeles Times
Daily News, “Skid Row Residents Now in Housing”
Downtown News, “Project 50 May Grow”