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.