Council Opposes Senate Bill that Would Bring Changes to Metro Board

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposed a state Senate bill that would drastically overhaul the governing board of Metro.

The bill is Sen. Tony Mendoza’s third attempt in two years to overhaul the board of the county’s transit agency and increase the representation of cities in areas outside the city of Los Angeles. Mendoza, D-Artesia, contends the county’s other 87 cities are underrepresented on the board and its projects often benefit Los Angeles at the expense of smaller cities.

The Metro board is made up of 13 voting members and a non-voting representative of the governor. The board oversees the agency’s vast network of public buses and rail lines. The board comprises the mayor of Los Angeles, three appointees of the mayor, all five members of the Board of Supervisors and a representative from each of the county’s four sub-regions.

SB 268 would eliminate three members of the Board of Supervisors from the Metro board while adding three members from the county’s sub-regions. It would also eliminate the Los Angeles mayor’s three appointees in favor of five City Council members.

The current publicly available text of the bill does not include mention of the three additional members from the county’s sub-regions, but a spokesman for Mendoza said it will be added soon.

“SB 268 runs counter to the spirit of local control by changing the membership of the Metro board without local consensus,” Los Angeles City

Councilman Mike Bonin wrote in a letter to the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

“These changes set a dangerous precedent for state control of local transportation boards and agencies.”

Bonin is the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and also one of Los Angeles’ representatives on the board.

“The primary reason for the bill is to ensure that there is fair and equal voting rights for other parts of the district. The communities that currently don’t have as much influence on the board will have more ability to have a larger voting percentage,” said Tim Kirkonnell, communications director for Mendoza.

Mendoza introduced two bills last year that sought to increase representation of the smaller cities, including one that would have replaced three of the county seats with a post for Long Beach and for appointees of the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the Assembly, and

another that would have added 10 new seats. Both were shelved by the Senate.

The new bill comes as Metro and the county are making plans for spending the estimated $120 billion that will be generated by a half-cent sales tax increase stemming from voter approval of Measure M in November.

“This bill would disrupt that process and make it more difficult for Metro to make critical investments that will create jobs, reduce traffic, and reduce pollution,” Bonin’s letter said.

The City Council approved the resolution May 19 with a 10-0 vote.

 

SR-710: Metro Committee Backs ‘Transportation Management’ Over Tunnel

May 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

Decades of uncertainty and discord over the controversial State Route 710 North project could soon turn a new page if transportation officials vote Thursday to adopt a recommendation to fund a traffic management system as the preferred route to fill the transportation “gap” between the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways.

The decision by the Metro Ad-Hoc Congestion, Highway and Roads Committee to support the traffic management system alternative over a proposal to build a 6.3-mile tunnel to close the gap, however, is not without controversy.

Eddie Torres, president of the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a longtime proponent of the tunnel alternative, told EGP he was stunned by committee member and Metro Board Chair John Fasana’s unexpected motion to bypass the tunnel option for the street management system.

Fasana is also mayor pro tem of Duarte — a San Gabriel Valley city where streets are not impacted by the traffic spilling over from the 710 terminus in Alhambra — and had previously expressed support for the tunnel alternative.

Torres went on to say he believes Fasana was pushed to make the motion and become the “bad guy” because the decision would not be controversial among his constituents.

The proposed traffic management system, one of five alternatives under consideration in the SR-710 Study, would upgrade and synchronize signals and make other enhancements to local streets and intersections. Proponents say it’s a more cost-effective and achievable plan to improve the traffic congestion that has made traveling north from the 710’s end on Valley Boulevard to connect to the 210 in South Pasadena a nightmare.

Last week, after two years reviewing some 8,000 public comments and weighing the impacts and benefits of each of the five alternatives under consideration, the SR-710 Study team presented the tunnel option as the preferred alternative to Metro’s Ad-Hoc Committee, but with a caveat.

In a letter to stakeholders, Metro officials explained the single bore freeway tunnel with tolls and truck restrictions was the alternative that “best addresses the purpose and need of the project,” however, with a price tag of $1.5 billion, it is “not fundable in the foreseeable future.”

(METRO)

(METRO)

Only $780 million in Measure R funds were earmarked for the SR-710 North project.

In response, Fasana moved to make the transportation system management alternative the preferred option. His motion calls for using $105 million of the Measure R funds to build the system and for the remainder to be used on new mobility improvement projects to relieve congestion in the San Gabriel Valley.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council threw its support behind legislation by a Pasadena assemblyman that would prohibit the construction of a tunnel to extend the 710 Freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena. Residents of the more affluent areas of Pasadena and South Pasadena have long opposed the tunnel and most other options as disruptive to their neighborhoods, while residents in less affluent East Los Angeles and Commerce have complained they have disproportionately shouldered the burden of the region’s transportation needs.

The bill by Assemblyman Chris Holden — which failed its first hearing in April but could be reconsidered — would create the I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Zone Advisory Committee, which would review a wide range of mass transit options to fill the 6.2-mile gap between Alhambra and Pasadena, which currently are linked only by surface streets. They would recommend solutions that do not include a tunnel or a surface freeway.

It’s not clear if the options to be considered would be those already considered in the SR-710 Study and Draft EIR, or if the process would start over.

The panel would include representatives from the cities of Alhambra, Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena, along with Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and select members of the California Legislature.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents communities in northeast L.A. near the 710 gap, was the lone dissenter to the resolution supporting Holden’s bill.

“We should move away from the kind of hysteria that gets engendered by this discussion and move into a dispassionate discussion about the benefits of a tunnel and how it accomplishes the goals of all of those communities impacted,” Cedillo said.

Metro received 1,328 comments supporting the tunnel alternative. Torres calls the traffic management system a “band aid solution.”

“Why ask us for our opinion if you’re only going to use money as an excuse to not give us what we want,” he complained.

If not fundable, Metro officials should have removed the tunnel as an option years ago when the cost estimates were released, Torres said.

“Why spend money on this study and process if they already knew how expensive [the tunnel] would be” and had no way to make it a reality, he added in frustration.

Over the last few years, Metro has held dozens of public hearings and informational workshops in the various communities impacted by the SR-710. They shared the findings from the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement on each of the five alternatives, which also included a light rail train, a rapid bus line and a “no build” option.

Members of the 710 coalition, a group in favor of the tunnel with members from Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino, were thrilled to learn the study team’s report favored a tunnel, which they argue will reduce congestion, air pollution, emissions and cut-through traffic.

“Lets stop debating and start building,” urged Alhambra Mayor Dave Mejia in a note to supporters last week. But upon learning of the new motion, Monterey Park Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian urged residents to attend the upcoming Metro Board meeting to express their disapproval.

“Instead of listening to Metro staff, the Ad Hoc Committee approved a motion that goes against the wishes of the voters when you approved Measure R and the completion of the 710 gap,” she wrote in an email to residents.

According to Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar’s spokesperson, Rick Coca, his boss is concerned there are no specific provisions in Fasana’s motion to relieve traffic congestions in two of the most highly impacted areas, East Los Angeles and El Sereno, a neighborhood the councilman represents.

Those areas have been inundated with commuters trying to get around traffic tie-ups, and the resulting pollution from vehicle emissions.

But Huizar on Wednesday voted to support Holden’s bill, saying he, Sup. Hilda Solis and Mayor Garcetti all oppose building a tunnel.

“All of us agree that it’s time to get away from this boondoggle of a project that’s going to cost billions of dollars but not ease much traffic … that those dollars instead be used for a more efficient way, a more 21st century way, in planning for transportation,” Huizar said.

According to Coca, Huizar will send a letter to the Metro Board detailing his concerns with the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendation, and advocate that the plan ultimately approved serve the needs of his eastside constituents.

The Metro Board could vote on Fasana’s motion as early as Thursday. A final environmental document is expected to be completed in 2018 before the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 makes the final selection on the alternative to move forward.

Information from City News Service used in this report.

 

County Will Fight Moves to Cut Its Metro Board Seats

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors went on record Tuesday against a state bill that would cut the number of county seats on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors from five to two.

Senate Bill 1379, sponsored by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, would maintain 14 board seats, but replace three of the county seats with a post for Long Beach and for appointees of the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the Assembly.

Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended sending a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders opposing the bill and directing county lobbyists to actively advocate against it.

In her motion, Solis said each of the supervisors acts on behalf of the incorporated cities that comprise their district when they vote on the Metro board, not just the unincorporated areas of the county.

In addition to the five county seats, the current board includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and three of his appointees, four members appointed from other cities and one non-voting member appointed by the governor.

The debate comes as officials wrangle over Metro’s plans for spending the estimated $120 billion that would be generated by a half-cent sales tax increase proposed by Measure M. The measure is set for the Nov. 8 ballot and requires the approval of at least two-thirds of voters to pass.

Also known as the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan, the measure includes a package of new rail and bus lines, highway improvements, bike lanes and street repairs.

Mendoza said the plan does not consider the needs of communities countywide and questioned the Metro board’s process for choosing and prioritizing specific projects.

He originally proposed adding 10 seats to the Metro board to address what he sees as a “lopsided system.”

Supervisor Michael Antonovich said if Mendoza “was interested in having a real regional body,” he should reallocate seats held by the city of Los Angeles to other municipalities.

Before the vote, Antonovich amended Solis’s motion to also oppose any measure that would reduce the county’s representation on the board or expand the city of Los Angeles’ representation.

Bill to Expand Metro Board Introduced

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A bill to increase the number of Metro board members was re-introduced last week by Sen. Tony Mendoza, who cites the need for a board that more fairly represents all of Los Angles County, specifically southeast communities along the 710 Long Beach and I-5 Santa Ana freeways in great need of traffic relief.

Senate Bill 522 would add 10 more members to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, increasing the number of seats to 24, ensuring the county’s 10 million residents are equally represented, said Mendoza.

Currently, the board is made up of the five county supervisors, four representatives of Los Angeles including Mayor Eric Garcetti, Metro’s CEO, and one councilmember each from the cities of Duarte, Glendale, Inglewood and Lakewood.

“With the exception of Lakewood, everything east of the 710 [freeway] lacks representation,” pointed out Mendoza.

Under SB 528, three of the 10 new seats would go to the city of L.A. and one each to the city of Long Beach and appointees of the Senate Pro Tem and Assembly Speaker. The remaining four would be filled by other municipalities.

Critics fear the bill will diminish the voting power of Los Angeles, the county’s largest city. But with 7 seats on the 24-member board, Mendoza says L.A.’s influence will not decrease.

Transportation agencies in surrounding areas have significantly larger boards than Metro. The San Bernardino Associated Governments has 31 members, Riverside Transit Agency 22 and the Orange County Transportation Authority has 18 members on its board.

“They keep numbers low to keep control,” said Mendoza, referring to outsized influence of L.A. and cities on the Westside. “We need to create balance so that everyone has a voice and a fair vote.”

The Board is opposed to any legislation that would change its makeup, Metro spokesman Rick Jagger told EGP.

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Any discussion or change in the Board should take place in L.A. County not through a mandate from Sacramento,” he said.

Last week, Metro’s board approved a ballot measure that if approved would levy a special half-cent sales tax to pay for more than $120 billion projects in the county’s new transit improvement plan, which includes a new subway line from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, new extensions from Claremont to Culver City and San Fernando to the South Bay.

Unlike previous transit funding measures that expire, such as Measure R, the new tax would be permanent.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the “bold transportation plan will relieve congested roads, connecting our region with robust, comprehensive transportation systems we need and deserve.”

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and representatives from other municipalities had asked Metro to postpone approval of the plan and proposed ballot measure until the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee had a chance to review it at a public hearing.

De Leon authored SB767 last year, which authorized Metro to place a transportation and use tax on the ballot.

“Given the involvement of the state on this matter and feedback Senators have received directly from local stakeholders, we believe it is appropriate to hold an oversight hearing to discuss how Metro evaluated proposed projects … and also to assess the fairness and equity of the plan,” de Leon wrote in a letter to Metro.

The public hearing was set for June 24; one day after Metro approved its plan.

The refusal to postpone the vote prompted Mendoza to re-introduce legislation to change the board’s makeup. A previous bill authored by Mendoza was shelved by the senator in the hope that Metro would consider coming up with a plan that did not postpone projects in the eastside and southeast communities.

“They just don’t care about this side of the town,” Mendoza told EGP. “They chose to expedite projects that serve the wealthier population.”

One of the projects delayed under the county’s new transportation plan includes a light rail line from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower. After decades on the shelf, the Eco Rapid transit rail, which serves Mendoza’s constituents, would be pushed back another 20 years to 2047.

“This project would help people who are transit dependent,” Mendoza said. The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened.

“It seems the poor communities will continue to struggle with congestion, pollution and traffic,” he criticized.

At the Commerce City Council meeting last week, City Manager Jorge Rifa said he too is disappointed with Metro’s plan, which would push back much-needed traffic improvements along the I-5 and 710 freeways that wrap around the city.

“We can’t wait another 20 years for this part of the freeway to be fixed,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us because this is an economic corridor.”

If approved in November, revenue from the added tax is expected to be at least $860 million a year. Some cities, including Commerce, would see their sales tax increase to 10 cents on every dollar.

“If we don’t have input it will impact the future decisions on how Metro spends money,” warned Mendoza. “So far they are taking us for granted and don’t take us into consideration.”

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