Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Metro Board Report for October 2012

The October meeting of the Metro Board focused on Measure J, and the continuing rift between those members of the Board that are supporting same and those who are vocally opposed to it (even to the point of unfairly identifying as Metro Board members in the course of their opposition).

What Was And Wasn’t In The Measure J Legislation:  Regular readers of this report know that Measure J was authorized to be on the November 6 ballot because of AB 1446 (Feuer), which gave the Metro Board the ability to do so … just as the original Measure R was authorized in 2008 by a similar state bill.

The amendment by John Fasana that would allow for the easier transfer of highway project money to transit projects (and vice-versa) required AB 1446 to contain language allowing same, else Measure J conflict with state law. And what was supposed to be a “receive and file” on that language addition turned into a new debate on the process, led by Supervisor Don Knabe, one of the Board members who is opposed to the ballot measure.

Knabe expressed his concerns that AB 1446 was “manipulated” and claimed that the Board was never given the legislation’s amendment language before it was passed by the Legislature. He also thought the two-thirds’ vote of the Board required before any shift of funds would be changed to a simple majority; after County Counsel Charles Safer assured him it was not, Knabe quoted a section of the bill that turned out to be for a related, but otherwise separate provision. (Thank you, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, for knowing the difference between an “expenditure plan” and a “funding reallocation”.)

Metro Director of Government Relations Michael Turner managed to clear the whole matter up by pointing out that, since the Board created a new expenditure plan for Measure J – which did require only a simple majority vote – the Feuer bill had to be made consistent with the Board’s action.  That settled the matter, until …

Anyone Interested In A Nice Game Of Leapfrog?: The accelerated Measure J project timelines notwithstanding, Knabe believes that “connecting LAX directly to the Metro Green Line should be among our higher priorities.” At least, that is how the convoluted motion he presented to the Board begins.

At the heart of the motion is a Knabe proposal to complete the LAX/Airport Metro Connector Project (which used to be called the Green Line extension project) no later than 2020, even though Measure J already would accelerate the original timeline for that project by five years; Knabe’s motion, based on the original completion date of 2028, has as its only sentence punctuated by an exclamation point “… 16 years from now!”

The discussion began at the Executive Management Committee and spilled over to the main Board meeting a week later despite Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ call for “renewed prioritization” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) and his feeling that there is a “lack of motivation on prioritization” (again, whatever …). Supervisor and Board Chair Michael Antonovich claimed that the passage of Measure J wouldn’t matter, ignoring completely the aforementioned acceleration of the timeline. Antonovich then made a bizarre comparison of the LAX connector to a proposed expansion of the Pico Blue/Expo Line Station if the “Farmers Field” stadium project goes through, which I am still trying to figure out, two weeks after he made the comparison.

CEO Art Leahy suggested a joint meeting of the Board with the Federal Aviation Administration, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), and the Federal Transit Administration, but that was met with a call by Ridley-Thomas for a “repositioning of the project” and carrying the discussion to the full Board.

By that time, Mel Wilson started to predict mixed signals from the Board and LAWA and took a thinly veiled dig at Knabe by saying “some will not support Measure J, but then want this to be a priority.” That was enough for Yaroslavsky to attack the Knabe motion as reopening the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP): “We promised that no project would leapfrog. Which projects suffer?”

That led to a heated discussion of whether the Knabe motion would undo the project order defined in Measure R. Ara Najarian chimed in with his vision of a “fragile agreement on the LRTP unraveling” and Antonovich humorously suggesting that “we should let (Brad) Sherman and (Howard) Berman referee this argument.”* The best moment came when Richard Katz started to make a point, then decided after only a few words to remain neutral, saying “I should just shut up.”

In the end, the Knabe motion passed with its controversial provision deleted: While it calls for a detailed action plan including funding alternatives and formal arrangements with LAWA and local, state and federal partners to accelerate the schedule for funding and implementing the schedule (but with a timeline that complements the Crenshaw Corridor and South Bay Extension projects, scheduled for completion in 2018 and 2020, respectively, if Measure J passes) and for a specific approach to advocacy efforts with the relevant federal agencies, the paragraph calling for a detailed timeline and Board actions to accelerate the environmental review and amendments to the expenditure plan and the LRTP was removed by Knabe under pressure from Yaroslavsky.

The question now is what Knabe will attempt once the action plan is brought to the Board in a few months.

(*-The reference in Antonovich’s quip is to the October 11 debate between the candidates for the 30th Congressional District where Sherman put his arm around Berman’s shoulder and asked him “do you want to get into this?”)

Quote Of The Month: Katz, during discussion of the Measure J question about whether or not the funding reallocation amendment required a two-thirds vote or not: “Why don’t we just ask Fasana?” (John was present at the time of the discussion but for some reason was never asked the question.)

As is always the case during the holidays, the November Board meeting – which would fall on Thanksgiving if held on the usual “fourth Thursday” schedule – has been rescheduled to a December date. So there won’t be a new post here for about six weeks. (Please hold the cracks on how I sometimes go that long between posts even when the Board is on its regular schedule.)

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, November 14 and 15
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, December 13

A note about identification of Directors in the report: Diane DuBois, John Fasana, Ara Najarian and Pam O’Connor are City Councilmembers from the cities of Lakewood, Duarte. Glendale and Santa Monica, respectively, and are elected to the Metro Board by the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee, per state law. Richard Katz and Mel Wilson are appointees of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as is José Huizar (one of the Mayor's appointments must be a member of the Los Angeles City Council). Only the five County Supervisors – Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe, Gloris Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky – and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles hold ex officio positions on the Board.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Metro Board Report for September 2012

The September meeting of the Metro Board was almost entirely consumed with the ongoing debate as to who should sell advertising on Metro’s vehicles and inside its stations for the next five years.

And, with apologies to William Shakespeare for borrowing one of his most familiar titles, it was much ado about nothing, at least for the moment …

That Ad On The Side Of Your Bus Is Big Business:  Every five years, Metro goes out to bid on the contract to sell the advertising on its properties. That is how ads get on both the outside and inside of buses and light rail cars, and inside subway cars and stations. 2012 happens to be the last year of the current year’s contract, held by CBS Outdoor Group, and the awarding of the next contract is turning into a battle royale.

The matter of the contract award originally came before the Executive Management Committee back in July, which decided that additional detail was needed from staff before they could award the contract. Given that such a delay is usually routine, we opted not to report on it then; as it turns out, the additional details opened a can of worms, with the worms now mucking up the entire affair.

At issue is the competing bid by Titan Outdoor Group, which offered a revenue guarantee that is 6.5% higher than CBS’ but which was rejected by staff primarily due to their defaulting on 20 other transit agencies’ contracts (which Titan renegotiated for lower revenue levels) including a termination by the New York City MTA, ad rates as much as 40% higher than CBS (which proposed only a 5% increase) but projecting a much lower rate for advertising inside Union Station, and a high projected rate of unsold space overall.

Titan has challenged the prospective award, which has resulted in both sides engaging in name calling before the Board; at the September 27 meeting, each side was given up to 15 minutes to make their case (to both companies’ credit, neither used all of their allotted time).  To summarize their positions:

  • Titan accused Metro staff of failing to perform due diligence, claimed CBS had problems in the past with Metro over billboards on Metro property, offered a letter of credit to ensure the revenue (which sounded a lot like the letter of credit AnsaldoBreda offered three years ago when they defaulted on their 2004 contract for light rail vehicles), and claimed CBS was putting its outdoor division “up for sale” and had inserted into their contract bid the right to assign the contract to another party if that happened.
  • CBS claimed Titan had a history of defaulting on revenue guarantees (the aforementioned 20 renegotiated contracts), accused Titan’s lobbyists of muddying the issues, and failed to release audited financial statements as part of their bid. Answering Titan’s last claim, CBS offered to guarantee the contracted revenue in “the unlikely event of a sale” of its outdoor division.

And then there was the (notably brief) public comment.  The unions, with the apparent encouragement of CBS, sent one main spokesperson and representatives of their small business “enterprise” contractors to speak on their behalf and gadfly Malcolm Klugman wanted Metro to survey its passengers to see if they want the advertising at all (in complete ignorance of the fact that the $110 million in ad revenue goes directly to support transit operations).

Then the Board started debating, and started asking questions of Metro staff. Chairman Michael Antonovich asked a number of pointed questions about rail station advertising and adjustments in fleet size, but then made assumptions based on facts that he felt needed correction.  Mel Wilson (yes, he’s back, as clueless as ever) wanted to see the payment histories for both companies before voting. All of the questions – as usual – were already covered in the 19 page staff report. Does anyone besides me actually read these?

Don Knabe started to ask a question about the qualifications of both companies but was interrupted by a CBS representative committing the ultimate faux pas of addressing the Board without being recognized to speak.  Consequently, we never did find out what Knabe was really asking.

And after all that discussion, there was sufficient disagreement remaining to create a series of motions with differing proposed results.

First, John Fasana moved to overturn the staff recommendation and award the contract to Titan, contingent on their providing a letter of credit equal to one year’s guaranteed revenues. CBS’ lawyer then tried to have public comment reopened but was shot down by Antonovich, who said the Board “has carte blanche to make motions and amendments, and discuss them.”

Before that could be voted upon, though, Richard Katz put forward a substitute motion to extend the current contract with CBS for up to six months while entering into a sealed bid procurement. Michelle Lopes Caldwell, Metro’s chief administrative services officer, pointed out that CBS would have to agree to the extension, prompting Katz to add an amendment whereby if CBS refused to do so, the contract would be automatically awarded to Titan.

The Katz motion failed.  So did the Fasana motion, which prompted him to offer a motion where the staff recommendation would be accepted, with a provision covering the transfer of the contract if CBS Outdoor Group was sold. No one seconded that motion, prompting Antonovich to call for a vote on the staff recommendation as presented. That failed as well, meaning the entire matter will come back to the Board in October, at which point I expect to hear a lot of this all over again.

Now, my commentary on why I believe this will still be a stalemate next month, unless something radical changes. All you need to do is look at the votes:

1.     Ed Reyes (substituting for José Huizar), Pam O'Connor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gloria Molina, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa abstained on all three votes.
2.     Ara Najarian, Diane DuBois, and Knabe voted “yes” on both substitute motions but “no” on the main motion.
3.     Fasana voted “yes” to his motion and the main motion but “no” to Katz' motion.
4.     Katz voted “yes” to his motion and the main motion but was not in the room when Fasana's was voted on.
5.     Zev Yaroslavsky was conflicted on the Fasana motion and the main motion but voted “yes” to Katz' motion.
6.     Antonovich voted “no” on both substitutes and “yes” on the main.
7.     Wilson voted “yes” to Katz' motion but was not in the room for the other two votes.

So five directors abstained on the entire matter, and there is obvious divisiveness on the part of the remaining eight directors. It takes seven votes of the thirteen to make a decision, which isn’t going to happen if the same split – or a similar one – happens in October.

The fact that the meeting started 49 minutes late is almost inconsequential if decisions can’t be made once the Board is in session …

Yes, there were other matters this month, but none of them generated discussion worth reporting on (unless I was to report on more of Wilson’s brilliant comments and questions, and that gets tiresome after a while).

Quote Of The Month: Katz, during discussion of the advertising contract, reacting to CBS and Titan both attempting to make guarantee offers as part of their comments: “If we’re going to have a bidding war, let’s have it in public.”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, October 17 and 18
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, October 25

A note about identification of Directors in the report: Diane DuBois, John Fasana, Ara Najarian and Pam O’Connor are City Councilmembers from the cities of Lakewood, Duarte. Glendale and Santa Monica, respectively, and are elected to the Metro Board by the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee, per state law. Richard Katz and Mel Wilson are appointees of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as is José Huizar (one of the Mayor's appointments must be a member of the Los Angeles City Council). Only the five County Supervisors – Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe, Gloris Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky – and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles hold ex officio positions on the Board.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Metro Board Report for July (and August!) 2012

This month’s report is pretty much an extension of the June Board meeting, with the exception of the incoming chair – Supervisor Michael Antonovich – trying to throw non-existent influence around in his continued hatred of Measure R revenue funding the Purple Line extension to the Westside.

Measure R Extension Debate, Extended:  Antonovich’s opening gambit at the Executive Management Committee was to try to defer the decision on the Measure R decision to September, which was quickly shot down when interim Chief Communications Officer Linda Bybee pointed out the severe time constraint that would create. (Personally, I think Antonovich knew perfectly well that such a delay would have the effect of scuttling the entire matter, and vainly hoped that no one would notice.) He then tried to derail (pun intended) the ballot measure by claiming that County Counsel had not properly vetted it. That tactic, to no one’s surprise, failed as well, as did the laundry list of objections provided by the Gold Line Construction Authority, who primarily object to there being no funding guarantees past the currently planned Azusa terminus. Guess whose Supervisorial district that extension is in?

The matter then went to the Board “without recommendation” a week later, where the discussion centered not on what was contained in the mockup of the proposed information brochure, but on the blank pages to include figures that staff was still compiling; after considerable grilling – mainly by Antonovich – the matter was then shoved to an adjourned “special Board meeting” on August 6.

And that’s where the real fireworks show was.

Amazingly, the public comment portion of the proceedings took less than 20 minutes, but included a few choice remarks from the usual suspects:

  • Gadfly Dr. Tom Williams called the proposed extension “subversive” because he didn’t think there would be sufficient “controls and public information” then said he would support the extension only if the transfer of funds from highway projects to transit were allowed (but not vice versa);
  • The aforementioned Gold Line Construction Authority, who now claim the extension violates Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and the original programming of Measure R revenues;
  • Spokespersons for something called the “Crenshaw Subway Coalition” don’t trust Metro with the revenues and suspect that politics would get in the way;
  • Damien Goodmon – whose 15 minutes of fame is somewhere around 14 minutes, 30 seconds by now – followed up the Coalition’s suspicions by damning the extension proposal with faint praise (“the principle is good but Metro’s past behavior shows nothing that indicates trust”);
  • The ubiquitous Bus Riders Union, who think the extension will bring nothing beyond new highway construction, and used their favorite tactic of muddying the waters between capital funding and operations funding (their now-ever present Eric Romann used the BRU stock phrase “bus service cuts in order to fund rail”);
  • Various construction union representatives, who while managing to tone down their past overwhelming dominance of public comment by using only a few key union leaders still focused on jobs that would be created, even though the Metro Board is legally prohibited from considering same when taking votes on project-related matters;
  • Several people opposed to the State Route 710 extension, who somehow have the impression that extending Measure R will divert funds from transit to that hated project; and
  • One fool who thought the Metro Board is directly elected by the public and wanted them to cancel all the Measure R projects in favor of creating more HOV lanes on freeways.

And then came the discussion amongst the Directors, led by Chairman Antonovich, who tried a new tactic of discrediting the extension by claiming it had no guarantees of subregional funding or protection of funds, making it appear that funds that he thinks should have been earmarked for the Gold Line extension to Claremont will be spent on highways instead. Those accusations were immediately rebutted by Richard Katz, who reminded the 5th District Supervisor that changes to Measure R allocations would still require a two-thirds vote of the Metro Board and that no 710 extension money has been allocated other than that earmarked in the last LRTP. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky chimed in with a reminder that all of the Measure R projects have funding gaps, particularly the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector, which are presently in negotiations for federal funding. John Fasana tried to smooth over the problem by suggesting that the extension ordinance specifically list the unfunded amounts for each project, but his motion to do so failed after Yaroslavsky pointed out that there is already a list of each project’s total projected costs and the amount funded by Measure R in the voter information brochure.

Yaroslavsky also managed to get some edits for punctuation and clarity of language approved, but not after his colleague on the Board of Supervisors, Gloria Molina, questioned his waiting until the last minute … to which Yaroslavsky pointed out that “when I proposed it before, you shot me down.” Molina shot back “and I’m going to shoot you down again” but her bluster didn’t sway the Board from approving Zev’s motion.

In the end, the vote was overwhelming, with only Antonovich and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas voting against putting the extension on the November ballot (Ridley-Thomas also abstained on the Fasana amendment to allow the transferring of funds between highway and transit projects*), and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa conspicuously absent.

Oh, and as for the enabling state legislation (AB 1446) … as of our publishing, it remains in the Senate pending a vote after being amended on August 7 to require Metro to provide a new expenditure plan in the ordinance that would extend Measure R and tying any revenue after the original projects are completed to those in Metro’s LRTP.  (Update: AB 1446 was passed by the Senate on August 20; the Assembly concurred with the amendments two days later and sent it to the Governor, who signed it into law September 30.)

*-This was proposed by Fasana last month, although I did not include details in my report; if approved by the voters as part of the Measure R extension, the moratorium prohibiting such transfers within a subregion, presently in place until 2019, would be removed, and the limit of only one such transfer per ten-year period would also be removed.

And would you believe there were other matters commanding the Board’s attention?

This Isn’t The Kind Of Frog That Goes “Ribbit”: Unless you pay no attention whatsoever to media coverage of Metro, you know that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has called into question the performance of the “frog” at the junction of the Blue and Expo Line tracks at Washington Blvd. and Flower St.; it has been explained that the frog is a heavy-duty spring configuration which allows the switching of tracks at that junction to accommodate whichever line’s train is passing through and route it appropriately. Naturally, the slightest hint of problems on any rail line that isn’t in his district sets Chairman Antonovich off, who failed to understand – after several explanations by both Metro staff and Expo Line Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe – that the CPUC (which Antonovich kept calling the “CUP”) does not “sign off” on these issues during construction, simply because it is not their policy to do so. (He also, in a burst of “blame everyone but us” enthusiasm, wanted the engineer who designed the frog to be held 100% liable for the problem.) Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who also sits on the Expo Authority’s board of directors, still thinks these problems are “systemic” even though the CPUC has only brought this single matter to everyone’s attention, and in the end it was agreed to bring in outside experts to advise how to best remedy the matter. In the words of Diane DuBois’: “Let’s fix it first and then find out why it happened!”

Everyone Wants The Regional Connector, But Only On Their Terms: The continued controversy over the construction of the Regional Connector, which I have reported on in previous months’ columns, spilled over into both the Construction Committee meeting and both the regular and special Board meetings.

Now that Metro has received a Record of Decision from the Federal Transit Administration, staff would like to proceed with the project design and construction method described in the environmental impact report, but both the Bonaventure Hotel and Thomas Properties have now sued Metro over the “cut and cover” method proposed for the tunnel segment between 4th Street and the existing tunnel that ends just north of 7th St/Metro Center. Enter José Huizar, whose City Council district just happens to include downtown, who put forward a motion to have bids for the project include both the approved method and extending the tunnel boring machine segment to 5th Street, accepting the latter if the bid was within the project budget; Bonaventure management and their supporters then spent their public comment time praising Huizar for his motion … after which the Councilmember disappeared for the rest of the Construction Committee meeting.

When his motion got to the full Board a week later, Zev Yaroslavsky took the lead on discussions (Huizar being absent and temporarily replaced by Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who seems to be the designated hitter whenever the regular Council appointee from the City Council can’t attend Board meetings), first suggesting that the Board approve the item without the Huizar amendment, continue discussions with the attorneys for Bonaventure and Thomas, and take additional action at the special Board meeting, then expressing his skepticism that much could be resolved in the intervening week and a half. Bonaventure’s attorneys publicly offered to withdraw their lawsuit if the Board guaranteed no cut and cover construction, which drew Richard Katz into a discussion of the lawsuits.

When the Bonaventure’s attorney interrupted Katz, his frustrated response was “do you want to let me finish before you correct me?” which prompted Zev to quip “this is becoming like the AnsaldoBreda matter … continued, continued, and continued.”*

In the end, the matter ended up going to the special Board meeting’s closed session (with Antonovich objecting and Ridley-Thomas abstaining) and no decision being made.

*-For which you’ll have to find my columns on the subject in the Southern California Transit Advocates newsletters.

Board On-Time Performance Scorecard: Remember last month, when I reported that debate on the Measure R extension carried on in the Executive Management Committee for so long that the Systems Safety and Operations Committee had defer all of the routine staff reports to the following month? Well, those staff reports have now been deferred to September … for much the same reason; the start times for the Executive Management and Construction Committees were flipped, and the former, now scheduled for 10:30am, started 23 minutes late and ran more than an hour past the noon scheduled start for Systems Safety and Operation, which then was cancelled because not enough Directors remained to form a quorum. As a result, the five items that needed a committee vote got rushed through with a single motion at the regular Board meeting. (Is this any way to run a transit agency?)

Other committees that got flipped, with varying effects on the actual start time, were:
  • Finance, Budget and Audit, moved to Wednesday at 1:00pm (started at 1:07)
  • Planning and Programming, moved to Wednesday at 2:30pm (started at 2:44)
  • Construction, moved to Thursday at 9:00am (started at 9:23)
The July 26 Board meeting started about as late as usual, at 9:23am instead of 9:00, as did the adjourned meeting of August 6, at 10:28am instead of 10:00. The latter was called to order by Vice-Chair DuBois; Chairman Antonovich didn’t show up until 10:57 … almost an hour past the scheduled start time. (Sigh.)

But all the above pales in comparison to the chaos created when the Grand Park dedication ceremony was also scheduled for July 26, for which the five Supervisors had to leave at 11:30. That forced the “closed session” items to be taken a mere hour after the meeting was called to order, then a reconvening at 12:34 to take up four items that could be voted upon by the remaining Directors, followed one hour later by another 45 minute recess so the Supes could return to the Metro headquarters building. (Is this any way to … oh, I asked that already, didn’t I?)

I have opinions on how this could be fixed, which I’ll share in a rant on the main Transit Insider site in the near future.

Surprise, Surprise! Look Who’s Back!: The August 6 meeting marked the return of David Fleming to the Metro Board, replacing the perpetually embarrassing Mel Wilson as one of Mayor Villaraigosa’s appointees. As regular readers of this column know, I have long criticized Wilson’s cluelessness during meetings and his inept behavior when participating remotely by telephone (in fact, we had more of the latter at the Finance, Budget and Audit Committee meeting when Mel attempted to participate from his hotel room in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, complete with background noise from his kids). There was no announcement made of his being a temporary replacement, so I have to presume that AV finally came to realize that Wilson was becoming something of an embarrassment to City Hall and put the infinitely more knowledgeable Fleming in his place. Welcome back, Dave.

Quote Of The Month: Ara Najarian, during discussion of the Measure R extension: “I went over this thoroughly, looking for nefarious intent. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find any.” I think that was Najarian’s attempt at humor to lighten up the mood of the discussion. At least, I hope it was.

As is the custom every summer, the Metro Board will “go dark” during the month of August.

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, September 19 and 20
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, September 27

A note about identification of Directors in the report: Diane DuBois, Ara Najarian, and John Fasana are City Councilmembers from the cities of Lakewood, Glendale, and Duarte, respectively, and are elected to the Metro Board by the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee, per state law. Richard Katz, David Fleming and Mel Wilson are appointees of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as is José Huizar (one of the Mayor's appointments must be a member of the Los Angeles City Council). Only the five County Supervisors and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles hold ex officio positions on the Board.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Additional Board Meeting on August 6

It was announced today at the Metro Board meeting that there will be an additional Special Board Meeting on Monday, August 6, at 9:00am.

At least two of the matters that I plan to report on have been continued to the August 6 meeting so I will not be posting the Board Report until after that meeting has taken place.

After that meeting, the Board will adhere to its tradition of "going dark" in August so the next cycle of meetings will not begin until September 19.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Metro Board Report for June 2012

I’m literally posting this report the day before the next Board meeting cycle begins, but I have a good excuse this time. June was all about the proposed extension of Measure R for another 30 years, and the in-fighting among some of the Directors continued well beyond the June 28 Board meeting (not that it changed anything, but special Board meetings have been called over less). Since any further argumentativeness will take place as part of the July meetings, I’m reporting on what has happened to date:

Measure R to 2039?: As I said above, it was all about putting an extension of Measure R on the November ballot … so much so that the Executive Management Committee debated about it well into the Construction Committee’s time, which forced the Systems Safety and Operations Committee to defer all of the routine staff reports to the following month, because they were so far behind schedule as to risk losing a quorum.

But I digress.

As might be expected, the most vocal opposition (among the Directors, at least) comes from Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who started the debate by objecting to placing the matter before the voters before the regional Councils of Government and Chambers of Commerce were allowed to comment. This led Richard Katz, who was chairing the committee meeting, to chastise the 5th District’s “little king” for missing the staff report then showing up just in time to criticize it; that prompted Antonovich to trot out all of his arguments against the original Measure R – as usual, focused on his intense dislike of the amount of money earmarked for the Purple Line extension to the Westside, while his pet project, Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line, receives a mere fraction of that amount – which in turn caused Katz to “point out to you that 69% of the voters disagreed with you” before recommending that the committee forward the matter to the full Board without recommendation.

(As a reminder for those who don’t quite get how the process works: Most matters brought before the Metro Board of Directors are first brought to the relevant Board committee for discussion and preliminary approval; if a matter exits the committee process with a “recommended approval” flag on it, it can then become part of the consent calendar at the regular Board meeting the following week, which is when all such matters receive Board approval by a single vote covering all of them. In this case, the Executive Management Committee forwarding the item without recommendation required it to be considered separately, which in this case had the effect of extending the arguing discussion.)

Not surprisingly, at the full Board meeting the public comment ran to all sides of the issue. The cities in the San Gabriel Valley wanted the extension to revise the original Measure R project list to add funding for the Metro Gold Line extension to the county line at Claremont (ignoring entirely the fact that more money was allocated to that project under Measure R than everything other than the Purple and Expo Lines); on the other hand, the various trade unions finally realized they were becoming an annoyance to the Board by speaking one at a time and designated a single spokesperson to communicate their support for the extension. The Bus Riders Union, of course, continues to oppose Measure R in the first place, denying the reality of its passage in 2008 and not only attacking rail projects but street and highway projects (apparently also denying the reality that buses use streets and highways). Santa Clarita City Councilmember Marsha McLean expressed concern that “outdated population data” would be used to distribute funds, which seems odd when she focused on Metrolink service, whose portion of Measure R is not population-based (she was apparently still confused when she raised the exact same questions at the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments’ July 9 public forum on Measure R); the supporters of the Crenshaw light rail line claimed the Purple Line extension was taking all the money that could be used for undergrounding the Crenshaw Line (another case of ignoring that the amounts allocated for each project in 2008 are not changed if the sales tax is extended).

When the Board finally got their turn after close to an hour of public comment, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe attempted to delay the decision “pending the results of further voter polls to gauge support in light of state tax measures qualifying for the November ballot” (you can tell from the convoluted language that MRT wrote the motion), only to be shot down by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said the state measures “were not unknown to us, are not unknown to us, and will not be unknown to us.” Zev defended the original voter mandate by adding that “they approved the use of their resources for highway improvements and public transportation” during an economic depression. Nevertheless, Knabe said it was too soon, and MRT found himself backpedaling with the weak argument that the extension resulted in a new tax increase (which Zev easily dismissed by pointing out the tax was already increased by the voters in 2008 and this is a request of the voters to extend its duration). It also didn’t help that staff didn’t believe new polling could be completed in time for the Board to act before the deadline to place the measure on the November ballot.

In the end, the motion to delay the decision failed, with only Antonovich, Ridley-Thomas and Knabe voting in favor. That prompted Diane DuBois to offer an amendment changing the sunset date to 2039, instead of the original staff recommendation of simply allowing the sales tax to continue until the voters took specific action to repeal it; despite the staff report pointing out that such an option had lower voter support in polling, Katz accepted the change, clearing the way for a vote in which (no surprises here) only the three aforementioned Supervisors voted against moving forward.

The whole discussion is somewhat moot as we “go to press” since the enabling state legislation (AB 1446) has been stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee since July 3.

Gloria Molina, The “Punisher”: There was one other item from June worth mentioning, which came out of the Finance, Budget and Audit Committee. As the committee discussed the approval of the FY13 audit plan, Supervisor Molina asked acting Inspector General Karen Gorman when she was going to audit the Metro Expo Line Construction Authority, to which Gorman replied she wasn’t their auditor. Molina then claimed the current memorandum of understanding between Metro and the Construction Authority allows Metro audit rights once per hour; before anyone could confirm or deny this, Molina revealed her motive by saying “once the committee approves this item I want to know how to punish Expo for their misdeeds.” Which comes as no surprise to our long term readers, who have read of the 1st District Supervisor’s long-time dislike of the Construction Authority.

That same discussion also brought more of Mel Wilson’s brand of “I know what I know, even if it’s wrong” when he claimed the Federal Transit Administration sets minimum farebox recovery ratios for service. Assured by CEO Art Leahy that this is not the case (although the FTA does look at farebox recovery when determining if a project proposed for federal capital funding will be sustainable in an agency’s budget after it is built), Ara Najarian stated his belief that Wilson was right, before Mel launched into another set of his tiresome questions about fare evasion, this time focusing on bus service before trying to figure out why revenue is down when rail ridership is up.

In the end, John Fasana ended the nonsense by pointing out the Board’s hypocrisy on the subject: “We all talk about it, but it’s different when we have to vote on fare increases.” Truer words are rarely spoken.

Quote Of The Month: Art Leahy, after sitting through several departmental reports on budget themes and performance metrics at the FB&A Committee (each department had to give its report individually): “Come on, guys, we have to get out of here!”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, July 18 and 19
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, July 26

A note about identification of Directors in the report: Diane DuBois, Ara Najarian, and John Fasana are City Councilmembers from the cities of Lakewood, Glendale, and Duarte, respectively, and are elected to the Metro Board by the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee, per state law. Richard Katz and Mel Wilson are appointees of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Only the five County Supervisors and the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles hold ex officio positions on the Board.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Metro Board Report for May 2012

In a month where John Walsh pushed the envelope far enough to be thrown out of the Boardroom not once, but twice, the plan to lock the fare gates on the Red/Purple Lines moved forward, and a budget for next fiscal year that (amazingly) does not call for a fare increase, the big news was approval of the subway extension to Westwood.

The Subway Goes Under Beverly Hills High: As we reported last month, the city of Beverly Hills forced Metro to hold a special hearing May 17 on the proposed route of the Purple Line tunnel under Beverly Hills High School in order to put the Century City station at the intersection of Constellation Blvd. and Avenue of the Stars. But, because the city invoked a somewhat obscure section (§30639) of the state Public Utilities Code which only applies to Metro as the successor agency to RTD, it was unlike any public hearing any of us are used to; the hearing was conducted as a way for the city to put forward its specific findings from its own geological surveys (which it did, in mind-numbing fashion, for more than two hours) and make its own suggestions for getting to Constellation without going underneath their precious high school campus.

The hearing went on so long, in fact, that public comment had to be delayed to the regular Board meeting a week later. The highlights of same:
  • The Beverly Hills Homeowners Association defying its own city’s government by supporting Constellation as the station location;
  • Joe Dunn, representing Southern California Transit Advocates, claiming Beverly Hills “wants us all to go back to 8-track players and one phone company”;
  • Brian Goldberg, president of the Beverly Hills Board of Education, chastising Metro for not making its own experts available for cross-examination at the hearing, to which Zev Yaroslavsky responded that decision was deliberate to give the city the entire scheduled time (“this was supposed to be a hearing, not a debate”);
  • The Crenshaw Committee, in a burst of colossal misunderstanding, thinking they should have also had a hearing about their desire to underground the Crenshaw/LAX Line;
  • Damion Goodmon, similarly trying to draw the Crenshaw/LAX and Expo Lines into the discussion, claiming it was all about the “unsafe safety culture” at Metro;
  • The Century City Chamber of Commerce declaring the still-to-be-built station “the center of Century City”;
  • One commenter taking the opportunity to remind the Bus Riders Union that the consent decree is long over (off-topic, but the BRU needs to be reminded of that at any opportunity);
  • 28th Congressional District candidate Jenny Worman bringing a proposal for advanced technology – one sheet of paper with no specifics – and wanting the Board to sign off on it, sight unseen … boy, does she have a lot to learn about how government works (we checked her website and she’s never held elected office before, although she does take pride in serving on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors for six years … maybe she thinks this is all a movie?);
  • John Walsh calling the Beverly Hills Courier (source of many articles – some of them even factual – deriding Metro over the proposed route) his “favorite reading material”; and
  • Gadfly Malcolm Klugman asking “if there’s a fault, why is the high school itself there?”
There were more discussions by the Board after that postponed public comment, including a revelation by Yaroslavsky that even as the city of Beverly Hills attacked the credentials of Metro’s experts, they attempted to hire one – Dr. James Dolan of USC – for their own studies (“so apparently his credentials weren’t in doubt there”). On the other hand, Michael Antonovich, who seems to be trying every possible tactic to prevent money going to anything benefiting the Westside, called Metro’s experts “trained seals” and said that having USGS’ Lucy Jones as part of the expert panel was “akin to asking the weather girl for advice on how to secure your home during a hurricane” (which brought a subsequent charge of misogyny from Jack Lindblad, a candidate for the 39th Assembly District, in comments he made on the website after Rick Orlov quoted Antonovich in his Daily News column).

Antonovich went on to claim that one expert on the panel – Dr. Thomas K. Rockwell of San Diego State University – had recanted his testimony and now opposed the project, but staff claimed no knowledge of such a statement by Rockwell and the 5th District Supervisor produced no evidence of same. He did, however, try to delay a vote on the matter in order to conduct “a full seismic fault analysis by the California Geological Survey,” which lost steam after Jones pointed out that there was no such thing as a standard analysis, that CGS was brought in to review the original data of the Metro fault study, and that such a request might take years to be approved by the state. In the end, only John Fasana sided with Antonovich … and they were the only two votes against approving the alignment and the rest of the EIR. (For the record, Diane DuBois, Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas were absent for the vote on the alignment; those three, plus Don Knabe, were absent for the EIR vote.)

There was a breath of fresh air at one point, provided by a resident of Beverly Hills objecting to her city spending $3 million on the fight “because it was politically motivated.” One wonders how many more residents of that affluent city feel the same way, and how many members of the City Council and Board of Education won’t win their bids for re-election in the future over this.

Gate Locking Approved, With Little Discussion: Although the staff report brought up a number of potential pitfalls to locking the fare gates on the Metro Red and Purple Lines, including a possible violation of the state Transportation Development Act requiring seniors to have reduced fare access without special media (such as a TAP card) and continuing problems integrating Metrolink and the municipal operators’ interagency transfers into the system, the Board rushed through a decision to phase in the locking, starting with Wilshire/Normandie Station near the end summer and continuing over a 12-week period, ending with 7th St/Metro Center and Union Station.

One possible mitigation mentioned would be the use of Sheriff’s Department Assistants, which are best known to Metro patrons as the white-shirted fare inspectors, as station attendants. We did the math and offered it up to Metro during public comment, for their use: 16 Red and Purple Line stations, six of which have two entry portals and sets of gates, and one of which (7th St/Metro Center) has three such gate sets, totals 24 locations requiring attendants. The subway operates a 20 hour span of service, seven days per week, for a total of 3,360 attendant hours per week (774,720 hours per year). We are told that Sheriff’s Assistants make about $12.50 per hour, which means the annual total would be $9,684,760. Is there that high an amount of lost fare revenue from evasion to justify continuing this expensive experiment?

Gloria Molina, For Whom “Yes” Is Not An Acceptable Answer: The Finance & Budget Committee meeting took a full half-hour longer than it needed to, because Molina felt the need to berate Government Affairs head Michael Turner about AB 1446 (Feuer) which would remove the 30-year sunset date on Measure R – making it a continuing source of funding, like Proposition A in 1980 and Proposition C in 1990 – and authorize an extension to be placed on the ballot to fund projects beyond the ones listed in the original Measure R.

The gist of Molina’s argument about supporting the legislation is valid, actually; she wants the extension to have flexibility by not including a list of specific projects (she thinks former CEO Roger Snoble should never have insisted on such a list in the original) and worries that the bill could be amended before passage in a way that would negatively impact Metro. However, Turner twice addressed those concerns, first by pointing out that it is his job to advise the Board when adverse changes occur in pending legislation, and again by suggesting that Board support be conditioned on the lack of a project list. Neither made the Supervisor from the 1st District happy, though, and by the time she let go of the matter, a full 30 minutes had passed … which was unfortunate because it was the last agenda item at the last committee meeting of the day.  We really wanted to go home, Gloria.

John Walsh’s Days May Be Numbered: In recent months, perpetual gadfly John Walsh has been pushing his luck, having played “the Jewish card” more and more in his public comments, usually in an offensive context. This month, he got thrown out of the Boardroom for those remarks … not once, but twice.

The first came during the Planning & Programming Committee, when chair Yaroslavsky pointedly told Walsh to “keep ethnicity and religion out of this … one more time and you’re out of here.” Walsh retorted that Zev was violating his First Amendment rights (to which Zev replied, “Sue me.”) and then shouted from the audience that “all the Jews will be here tomorrow [for the special public hearing on the subway extension]” at which point Zev ejected him.

Not to be outdone, Walsh continued his ethnic ranting during public comment at the Board meeting during discussion of the subway alignment to Century City, at which point chair Antonio Villaraigosa also ejected him. To Walsh’s question “What’d I say?” the response was “I think you know.” The latter expulsion included a 60-day ban on Walsh attending Board meetings, which with the usual August “dark” month means the next time we’ll hear anything from him will be September 19.

Wonder how long he’ll go after that before being thrown out again … and how long the next ban will be?

The Budget In Brief: I know that most readers of this column worry more about the budget for transit service operations more than anything else, so here's that part of the 2012-13 Metro budget.

Higher operating costs for the Orange Line because of the extension to Chatsworth are more than offset by the cancellation of service duplicating the new Expo Line, so the bus operating budget is pretty much the same as last year (up by 0.3%, if you want to be technical). The rail operating budget is up by 16% due to the Expo Line and the increase in late night Red Line service.

All transit-eligible funding is used for operations, including the 20% Measure R bus operations allocation.

Metro has put the entire budget online at the website, in PDF format, if you want to read it for yourself.

Bruce DuBois, R.I.P.: Much of the May 24 agenda was held for the June meeting because of the passing of Diane DuBois’ husband of 53 years, Bruce, on May 15 at age 76; the funeral was held the afternoon of the Board meeting, so once the two important matters were dealt with, the meeting adjourned to allow the Board to attend. We offer our condolences to Mrs. DuBois on her loss.

Quote Of The Month: Richard Katz, reacting to background sounds from Mel Wilson’s attending the Finance & Budget Committee via phone from Washington, DC (incredibly, Wilson was on a phone without a mute button): “Can’t we just disconnect him?”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, June 20 & 21
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, June 28

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Metro Board Report for April 2012

The big news this month was the tentative approval of both the Westside Subway Extension environmental impact report and an order for enough new light rail cars to see Metro through the opening of the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line extension to Azusa, and the Crenshaw/LAX line, with enough left over to retire the oldest of the Blue Line cars.

Did Everyone In Beverly Hills Sign Up To Speak?: After a whopping two hours and twenty minutes of public comment, the Board finally approved the EIR for the Purple Line extension to Westwood, as well as starting the process to construct the line underneath Wilshire Blvd. as far as La Cienega Blvd. Of course, that massive amount of public input followed yet another presentation of the geological study conducted on the now-famous fault under Santa Monica Blvd., which is the basis for putting the Century City Station under Constellation Blvd. instead. And of course, the Beverly Hills City Council still doesn’t believe any of it, turning out en masse to again voice their opposition (prompting Chair Antonio Villaraigosa to comment that there appeared to be a quorum of the Council present, which sounds like a Brown Act violation to me!) even though the study was headed by no less an expert than Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey … if you’ve ever watched television news coverage of a local earthquake, you’ve seen her.

Without going into too many of the details – suffice it to say that if you live anywhere but Beverly Hills you probably were in support of the project, and if you did live there, you were probably opposed (there were 90 commenters, according to the Board Secretary’s office, 50 in favor of the project and 40 against) – the matter will continue to be discussed at a special public hearing on May 17 requested by the City of Beverly Hills under an obscure statute written back in 1964 originally applying to the RTD. Not that anyone expects that to solve anything.

Of all the Board members, it was Zev Yaroslavsky who unearthed (so to speak) what I think is the most compelling piece of information that has the effect of destroying Beverly Hills’ argument: The Purple Line tunnel will not, based on the Beverly Hills High School master plan’s charts, go underneath any of the historic buildings, but will instead go underneath a newer single-story annex to one of those buildings. Oh, wait … no it won’t, because the master plan calls for that annex to be demolished when they build their underground parking garage, long before Metro’s tunnel boring machines arrive. (After pointing out that there are tunnels underneath schools, hospitals, and government buildings throughout the county, he pointed out that “if it’s safe in one part of L.A. County, it’s safe everywhere in L.A. County.”)

Of course, that came after the clueless remarks at the Planning & Programming Committee by Beverly Hills’ city attorney, who – apparently not understanding how committees work in government – tried to interpret the wording of the item on the committee agenda as being a Brown Act violation, only to be challenged by Zev and his 35 years of experience with government bodies’ committees and a tongue-in-cheek request of County Counsel Charles Safer to confirm that the committee had authority to make a recommendation to the full Board. There must be something about all that money floating around in Beverly Hills that makes its government somewhat less than candidates for Mensa …

One humorous moment came when my favorite Los Angeles City Councilman, Tom LaBonge, quoted the lyrics of Fleetwood Mac’s song “Don’t Stop” … but then Tom is famous for his enthusiasm when public transit is the matter at hand.

In the end, the vote was nearly unanimous, with only Michael Antonovich dissenting in his usual symbolic stand against the Westside getting Measure R money, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining, thus avoiding a vote on a matter which would undoubtedly give him grief with his Crenshaw constituents.

The Blue Line May Get To Pasadena After All: After all the wasted public comment at the February Board meeting about the Regional Connector environmental impact report, it was refreshing to have only a half-hour of comments before the Board approved the EIR this month. Naturally, there is still contentiousness over the 5th/Flower station which was removed from the project, which has now grown out of proportion into a concern by the Bonaventure Hotel about cut-and-cover construction on Flower triggering some obscure clause in their event agreements. (I detect a straw man.) The Board appears ready to call their bluff, though, by separating the final design decision into a separate vote which includes a determination if any additional mitigation is possible on Flower. With the exception of Villaraigosa being conflicted on that part of the matter, the vote to approve was unanimous except for Ridley-Thomas’ abstaining (again).

Gee, You Mean Measure R Funds Are Still Dependent On The Economy?: With economic recovery taking longer than anyone would like, the Board was asked to make changes in the Measure R contingency policy to more accurately reflect interest earning and interest costs for the federal Build America bonds, and stipulate the reimbursement policy for funds advanced on Measure R projects from other sources. Sounds simple enough, until Ridley-Thomas woke up from his nap of abstentions just in time to berate Metro’s David Yale about deferred maintenance, then calling Yale’s answer “non-responsive” (Yale said he would need to refer to Metro’s short-term transportation plan to give a complete answer) before finally admitting that Yale is not an expert on all the specific areas.  

Then, citing a need to tie back the policy to specific projects and to define same, John Fasana put forward a motion to defer the matter, prompting Yaroslavsky to have one of his well-timed explosions by pointing out that the matter had already been deferred twice in order to be on the same agenda as the Regional Connector. That was enough to kill the Fasana motion 8-4 (by this time, Villaraigosa had apparently had enough and left) and approve the changes 7-5 (with Fasana joined by all the Supervisors other than Zev in voting against).

As Long As It Isn’t AnsaldoBreda: It took a special meeting of the Board on April 30 to decide the matter, but a contract for 235 light rail vehicles was tentatively issued on a 8-2 vote – Villaraigosa conflicted, Richard Katz abstaining, and Gloria Molina conspicuously absent – to the Japanese firm Kinkisharyo, pending resolution of protests from the losing bidders, Siemens Corporation and CAF USA. Key to the discussion and public comment was the fact that the winning bid was 12% higher than that of second-place Siemens, the result of using “best value” criteria to decide the winner … said process having been put in place after the disastrous negotiations three years ago with AnsaldoBreda to have the new cars built under an existing 1998 contract with Metro fell apart (and we’re still waiting for the last cars from that order), putting Metro, as CEO Art Leahy put it, “out of slack” in terms of waiting to issue a contract. That much would have been obvious even if references weren’t made to AB during the meeting; Kinkisharyo’s reputation for being the only company which has never failed to deliver on time was repeatedly cited as the reason they were the preferred bidder.

On Siemens’ side was the County Federation of Labor, which appears to have finally worn out their welcome in the Metro boardroom with their usual focus on local jobs, which I (and others) have taken them to task for because the Federal Transit Administration does not allow local jobs creation to be considered in awarding these types of contracts. This time, the Federation shot itself in the foot by continuing to claim that the construction would take place in Japan rather than California … and continued to claim that after it was revealed that Kinkisharyo would indeed conduct final assembly in the Golden State, creating 348 jobs in the process (only 43 fewer than would have Siemens).

Perhaps the Bus Riders Union has been giving the County Federation of Labor lessons on making misstatements.

A Special Comment: I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the unfortunate comment by Antonovich at the Executive Management Committee meeting. In case you missed all of the media coverage, during a discussion of AB 1446, pending legislation that would authorize Metro to put an extension of Measure R (including removing the sunset date) on the ballot, the esteemed Supervisor from the 5th District said he believed more public input was needed "unlike last time, which was a gang rape." He was referring to his view of the original Measure R, but that comment was enough to make Villaraigosa absent himself for several minutes, returning when the matter came to a vote in favor of supporting the bill.

First, I think the Mayor’s response was wonderfully restrained. Even his choice of words in responding to the Supervisor (“That kind of terminology is unacceptable from a board member, sir.”) concealed what must have been a seething furor within. But I have to ask why Antonovich would make a remark which the vast majority of people find offensive. Does he not realize that the subject of rape – especially gang rape – is one that virtually everyone other than the rapists finds repulsive? Does he also fail to realize that his comparison disrespects his own constituents, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of Measure R?

Is it because he is past the usual age of retirement (72) and therefore believes he can get away with saying anything he wants because he’s an “old man”? Or does he not care because he terms out in another four years?

Whatever the reason, he owes the residents of Los Angeles County an apology. Not that I think we’re going to get one.

Quote Of The Month: Zev Yaroslavsky, on the continuing protests of the Beverly Hills Board of Education: “I sense crocodile tears.”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, May 16 & 17*
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, May 24
* - The May 17 committee meetings will be followed at 1:30pm by the special public hearing on the Westside Subway Extension.

(My thanks to Jerard Wright of Move LA for his assistance in taking notes for this month's column during periods when I was unable to do so.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Metro Board Report for March 2012

And I thought last month was boring …

This month saw practically every significant agenda item carried over to the April meeting cycle, including:

  • Approving the Regional Connector environmental impact report (which had, you may recall, already been carried over from February’s meeting after a lot of wasted public comment);
  • Approving a contract for 135 light rail vehicles, to be used on the Expo and Crenshaw Lines, and replacements for the oldest Blue Line cars (which will be 25 years old by the time the replacements arrive);
  • A proposal to allow CEO Art Leahy to execute contract modifications at higher levels than present without Board approval (despite the fact that the present levels have been requiring more and more of the Board’s time to approve, Zev Yaroslavsky wanted more oversight, and Antonio Villaraigosa held the matter in committee until staff can determine what other large transportation agencies’ policies are); and
  • Updates to the Transit Service Policy, withdrawn by Leahy right before the Operations Committee meeting.

There was, however, the usual amount of public comment related nonsense, with much of it centering on the “usual suspects”, the Bus Riders Union as they continue their campaign to convince the Board that their vision of Title VI civil rights compliance is the correct one, despite the Federal Transit Administration saying otherwise. This month they claimed they had met with both the FTA and the Department of Justice; although no proof was offered of said meeting, Barbara Lott-Holland claimed DOJ called Metro “a poster child for discriminatory transit systems”. They also accused Metro’s planners of deliberately creating discrimination by circumventing the process, with organizer Sun Youngyang claiming all budgetary alternatives have to be considered (wrong, according to the FTA, said Metro’s Dan Levy). And organizer Esperanza Martinez claimed that the FTA “is still determining if Metro is in violation for past service cuts” … again, without offering any proof of said statement. Given the BRU’s penchant for rhetoric, it was no surprise that none of their arguments had any effect, although it did get Gloria Molina’s attention for about a half-second (see the Quote Of The Month).

I did get a chuckle when the BRU withdrew their request to speak at the Operations Committee after it was announced by Metro’s Conan Cheung that the Title VI review of the upcoming June service changes were already approved and reviewed by the FTA. We can all guess what they had planned to say, can’t we …

But that was nothing compared to the hour spent at the beginning of the Board meeting hearing public comment from members of the Crenshaw community and their supporters, continuing to insist on the forthcoming light rail line being underground. What I found sad is that they had no new arguments to present, and several substituted shouting at the Board for the lack of content. Hint to our fine African-American citizens: A loud, strident attitude not only doesn’t get you what you want, it practically guarantees that the Board won’t reconsider the matter. Even Mark Ridley-Thomas looked uncomfortable listening to what at times sounded like a good old revival meeting …

And, despite Art Leahy’s admonition that local employment concerns cannot be considered by the Board when awarding contracts that have federal funds (lest the FTA withdraw approval for said funds), several business owners commenting on the light rail vehicle procurement contract at the Operations Committee (before it was held over again) proceeded to focus their comments almost entirely on the creation of “local jobs”. The biggest offender was once again the County Federation of Labor, whose representative was completely focused on that potential employment for their members, although a close second place would have to go to the Siemens Corporation, who as one of the competing bidders should already know about the FTA regulations. I suppose what it’s going to take to stop this nonsense is Metro losing federal funding over such public comment being allowed … at which point I reserve the right to point fingers.

Quote Of The Month: Gloria Molina, after berating Dan Levy for not being more comprehensive in his monthly presentation on civil rights compliance: “I know all the information is in the full staff report, and I know I have the responsibility to read the whole report … but who has time?”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, April 18 & 19
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, April 26

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Metro Board Report for February 2012

Since there was nothing earthshaking at the February meetings (which is also why I procrastinated until mere days before the March meetings to file this report), we present a special edition of the Metro Board Report entitled Quotes Of The Month (and other misconceptions) ...
  • During public comment on the Regional Connector EIR approval, the downtown business owners still insisted on a 5th/Flower Station (uhh, no, we've been down that road with you before, remember?), one resident of Little Tokyo wants a shuttle bus instead, an attorney claimed the Planning & Programming Committee couldn't move the approval to the Board because the comment period didn't end for another five days (but it did end before the Board meeting itself the following week), and one hotel owner wanted easements moved to prevent clauses in his contracts with clients from being invoked (oh, so it's Metro's fault you have these kinds of clauses?).
  • Mel Wilson, chairing the Finance, Budget & Audit Committee, first asked to "go back to" a non-existent slide on sales tax revenue, then when advised by Metro's Chief Financial Officer Terry Matsumoto that said slide only appears in his presentation once per quarter because that is how often the State Board of Equalization provides the accounting data with meaningful information, asked: "What does 'meaningful' mean?"
  • Later that same meeting while the committee was considering hiring a firm to consult on debt financing capital projects, Mel said "I don't mean to be dense." No comment.
  • (Mel also, at the Executive Management Committee, thought the Blue Line had higher ridership than the subway.)
  • Zev Yaroslavsky, at the Executive Management Committee meeting, responding to Chief Communications Officer Matt Raymond's report on the fare gate locking test that there are still unresolved issues with Metrolink fare media: "I don't want Metrolink to be the tail wagging the dog." (By the way, Raymond's report made it sound as if 20% of Metro Red Line passengers are fare evaders; it took until the Sheriff's Department presentation on the locking test at the Operations Committee meeting the next day to learn it was closer to 4%.)
  • Sun Youngyang, of the Bus Riders Union, trying to stop the Operations Committee from approving the Title VI audits: "The FTA isn't going to approve of your methodology." It turned out the FTA was "satisfied and impressed" by the review, according to Metro's Civil Rights Compliance Officer Dan Levy ... it was the BRU who wanted systemwide impacts included, not the feds. At the full Board meeting, the BRU's Barbara Lott-Holland made the further misstatement that service cancellations had to be withdrawn if there were any discriminatory impacts at all (and had to be reminded that FTA guidelines say otherwise). Damien Goodmon not only agreed with the BRU but said the Crenshaw/LAX EIR needed to be withdrawn on the same basis because of the at-grade vs. tunneling issue.
  • And gadfly Arnold Sachs, upon being told by Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa that the "F*ck U" shirt he was wearing was considered offensive: "What? It's my alma mater!"
Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, March 14 & 15
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, March 22

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Metro Board Report for January 2012

You might have thought that the Title VI embarrassment (see my special report on same) was the only major issue to come before the Board, if you'd read the agendas for January … in fact, this was one of those rare months where I was able to monitor all the meetings via the audio feed provided for employees and the media! But there was one matter that bears reporting on:

The Project Labor Agreement Is A Done Deal, Finally : The PLA, which has been the subject of much negotiation between Metro and the building trades councils for Los Angeles and Orange Counties, was approved by the Board this month, but not until after previous questions (as we reported in September) were answered ... and led to new questions and some more BRU nonsense.

The questions previously raised by Director Zev Yaroslavsky about the apparent incongruity of the maps showing economically depressed areas with his own observations were taken care of by the revelation that the PLA had to use federal data for hiring guidelines, else the Federal Transit Administration would be unable to approve the agreement as non-conforming to the national hiring program. This didn't stop the Third District Supervisor from calling the maps flawed, citing the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima, which "is worse than Arleta ... which is included, but Pacoima is not."

Then there was the matter of trying to keep specific projects from being focused upon, which would give the FTA further grounds to reject the agreement, which led Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa to take the unusual step of ruling "out of order" in advance any public comment which was project specific.

The entertainment portion of the public comment came from the Bus Riders Union, who tried to use the PLA (perhaps they still think it means "Palestine Liberation Army") to resurrect their "clean air plan" ... which is nothing more than the "500 new buses" they continually demanded during the ten years of the consent decree. Since they apparently have no new ideas, they tried a new approach to gain support for the retread by attempting to convince the labor leaders present that bus operator and mechanic jobs at Metro are also union jobs. Not surprisingly, the labor leaders -- who represent construction workers, not bus operators -- did not, as the BRU had hoped, flock to their side in support. It also didn't help that the BRU attacked the creation of construction jobs (their usual "stop building rail" argument), which further failed to endear them to those present; so it comes as no surprise that their call for the County Federation of Labor to support their vision fell flat on its face. Personally, I'm convinced the BRU hasn't learned a damn thing in over 15 years of making our collective lives miserable ...

I'd point out that -- as was the case in September -- the County Fed of Labor once again packed the Board Room to show its support, even though there was never any question that this would pass. As I did in September, I appeal to the labor community to stop taking seats away from those who are in attendance for other issues. Trust me on this: The support you enjoy starts to erode when you inconvenience your supporters. Next time something this major comes up, try to remember that sometimes less is more.

And, Of Course, BRU Still Only Supports Their View Of Reality: As might be expected, the Chair's Report consisted of further updates by Dan Levy, Metro's newly installed Director of Civil Rights Compliance, on the Title VI matter. This was followed by the BRU calling the matter a "crisis" (while still insisting the FTA found "violations" rather than the term "deficiencies" that appears in the FTA report) and demanded a rollback of all fare increases and restoration of previous service reductions ... while insisting that they should be in charge of the corrective process. And they labeled this as "just the first of our demands."

I have news for them: They are in no position to "demand" anything. As of the date that I write this, the consent decree has been over for 1,925 days. That's well over five years, and there wasn't some clause allowing them to make demands after the decree expired. Their fifteen minutes of fame expired a long time ago and they had best make peace with that fact; the Title VI matter didn't automatically reopen doors for them, and they are delusional if they think it did.

Lost in the midst of that BRU rhetoric was a claim by activist Damion Goodmon that the Title VI deficiencies automatically invalidated the EIR for the Crenshaw/LAX project. On that point, I think he is as delusional as the BRU.

Quote Of The Month: Villaraigosa, after listening to gadfly John Walsh make accusations that he is under FBI investigation of his current personal relationship: "You keep talking like that, you're going to be removed ... and you'll be lucky if that's all."

Of course, that was after Villaraigosa said (thinking he was off-mike) during Walsh's comments: "What a nut."

After I posted my notice that I was not going to file a report on the November/December Board meeting, I was reminded by my colleague Jerard Wright that there was one matter worthy of mentioning in passing ... the addition of the Manchester/Aviation Station to the Crenshaw/LAX light rail project, which was proposed by Director Don Knabe as a bid option only if it could be done within the project budget along with Director Mark Ridley-Thomas' underground Leimert Park station, which I reported on in my post for the May 2011 Board meeting. Notable about the discussion is that even though Knabe bent over backwards to make sure his proposal was secondary to that of the Supervisor from the Second District, Ridley-Thomas complained bitterly about the "vulgar inconsistency" of the way "his" project is treated.

I'll say it again: Ridley-Thomas cannot be made happy, no longer how hard one tries. I think everyone should stop trying.

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, February 15 & 16

Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, February 23