DEAR EDITOR:In "Clean Air Takes a Back Seat" [September 18-24], Sara Catania seemed to be saying, "Alternative fuel good, diesel fuel bad." It's not all that simple.
First point: Ethanol/methanol is undoubtedly the worst available fueling option. The engines don't run well, the maintenance problems are horrific (especially with methanol), the fuel is twice as expensive as diesel, and the emissions are not all that great. In fact, certain emission constituents, such as evaporative hydrocarbons, a major smog precursor, are worse than for diesel.
Second point: Natural gas is a wonderful fuel, but it has its own major drawbacks. As pointed out in the article, the up-front costs are much greater than with diesel, and NOx emissions may or may not be better than with diesel, depending on whose engines you're comparing. And what about those 9-cents-per-mile savings? What's behind that number? Does it include the capital and maintenance costs of on-site fuel storage and pumping stations? Does it take into account the extra time required to fuel natural-gas buses? Does it include special training for personnel?
Final point: Diesel is a proven, reliable and constantly improving technology for which a vast fueling infrastructure is already in place. If one wishes to expand a diesel fleet, all one has to do is call up the local petroleum distributor to bring a tanker around at night. If my buses are natural-gas, at this point I'm out of luck.
Yes, L.A. is the nation's most polluted city, but the air quality has improved over the last seven years, thanks largely to vehicle-emissions regulations affecting gasoline and diesel engines alike. New diesels, such as those powering the new MTA buses, are built to the latest EPA CARB tailpipe limits. Considering the cost and time constraints, if I were the MTA manager of equipment purchases, I would have made the same rational, intelligent choice.
-Doug McGregorMotor-vehicle-emissionscertification engineerLos Angeles
DEAR EDITOR:Sara Catania hit the nail on the head: The MTA has been retreating on its commitment to convert its fleet to cleaner fuel and zero-emission vehicles. Some MTA officials have had the audacity to refer to the new coaches as "clean diesel." There is no such thing as "clean diesel," only dirty diesel and less dirty diesel. Both produce cancer-causing emissions. Further, while the MTA claims that the ethanol and methanol buses are mechanically inferior, even their own internal reports indicate that their mechanics were not well-trained in the maintenance of the vehicles, and that maintenance was shoddy and insufficient according to vehicle specifications.
I understand that the MTA has serious problems, but compounding those problems by increasing the agency's contribution to regional air pollution is not the answer.
-Jeffrey PrangWest Hollywood City Council
DEAR EDITOR:It is certainly wrong that corruption or incompetence on the part of some MTA board members now means that the entire community will breathe dirtier air. It is hypocritical of the Bus Riders Union, however, to pretend that its narrow-minded "More buses now!" policy - its insistence on a strict MTA adherence to the very difficult crowding standards set by the court - was not a critical part of the MTA's decision to reverse its policy. The union will not sign on to any compromise that might have allowed the MTA to delay implementation of the court-ordered standards and purchase cleaner buses. The union has the upper hand, and insists on playing it - all the while blaming the MTA for past delays.
No one can change the past, but current choices do affect the future. The Bus Riders Union began with the purpose of serving the immediate needs of the residents of South-Central Los Angeles, and it has certainly brought needed attention to the MTA's neglect of business as usual in its excitement over the Red Line. But although the union has broadened its rhetoric since then, extending its concerns outside its original constituency, it has never re-evaluated whether its short-term goals for South-Central might actually be counterproductive when it comes to the needs of the larger community.
-Katie MoreBus and rail rider
FALLING, ANGEL . . . THE BEST
DEAR EDITOR:Your "Best of L.A." issue [September 25-October 1] is a paean to bad health, trash culture and generally crappy living. You start with the Best Hamburger and the Best French Fries (double-fried, no less) and then inform us of such sublime culinary experiences as "Los Tacos at the Bel Air Carwash" and "The Taco Truck That Sometimes Parks at the Car Wash on Gower Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard." (Based on what she purports to eat, Pleasant Gehman must weigh, like, 500 pounds.) By the time we've finished a Stan's Cinnamon Stick and a Cole's French Dip, we're ready to check into one of the detoxification centers that pay your bills.
But no, we're now told where to find the best graffiti (er, "public art") in town, to go marvel at the "Heaven's Gate" display at the self-consciously self-conscious You've Got Bad Taste, and to purchase our culture at those retro emporiums Midnight Special Bookstore and Rhino Records (great places when I was in college 15 years ago, but the references to Antonio Gramsci, the Dream Syndicate, Phast Phreddie and Chip & Tony Kinman say it all). Then, maybe, just maybe, we'll get to see Johnny Angel swaggering around town in one of those "wife beaters" that he fancies.
You guys need a good cleansing.
-Jeffrey S. RaskinLos Angeles
DEAR EDITOR:Johnny Angel is so right-on about San Francisco ("Why I'm Glad To Be Back in L.A."). Two years ago I left that rat-infested, overpriced, incestuous little communist day-care center for clove-cigarette-puffing poseurs, that damp, dank bed-and-breakfast that fancies itself a city because it has an opera house and a handful of overrated restaurants, and I never looked back. Why should I? In L.A. I can actually live like an adult, have an apartment and a car (and places to park it!), for less than it costs to live in "America's Favorite City." And I really hardly ever miss the sourdough bread.
Rock on, Johnny Angel, and welcome home.
DEAR EDITOR:Re: Falling James and Al's Bar ["Best Loud Music Club"]. At last someone from your publication has the sack to make a stance. After reading your "alternative" newspaper for the last few years, I gather that either you have passive music writers disinclined to make a statement that could jeopardize their "careers," or your editing reflects a buzz-kill complacency. But at least one cutting-edge visionary has emerged from your platoon of temporal minions, and that bold individual is Falling James.
-Chuckie CicerelloLos Angeles
DEAR EDITOR:Congratulations on publishing Andrew Christie's loony-tunes letter in your October 9-15 issue, in which he compares Marc Haefele - who, along with the L.A. Times, has made serious allegations against Marcia Hanscom and the Wetlands Action Network - to a vicious dog and asks that he be reined in. The bankruptcy of some environmental extremists could not be more well-illustrated by this display of personal attack and crypto-fascism. Christie apparently believes in free speech only for those who agree with him. Let's return to a serious discussion of the issues raised by Haefele and the Times rather than continuing this ad hominem mudslinging.
-David Sternlight, Ph.D.Westwood