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.)