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 digg.com 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