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.