Getting Transit Back on Track in LA County

By Patrick Furey, Mayor of Torrance, and John Mirisch

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Business Journal on July 5, 2016, with the subhead:

State Senator must revive proposal to drive back city of LA's outsized representation on Metro's board..

NOT surprisingly, SB 1472, a bill by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) to reform the governance structure of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has come under attack from a very powerful special interest group. In this case, that group happens to be the city of Los Angeles.

The heated opposition from Los Angeles caused Mendoza to withdraw the bill recently, but he should not be deterred. As he suggested he would do, Mendoza should bring the bill back with some needed tweaks, because it addresses the important issue of disproportionate representation on the Metro board and is a much needed step in the right direction. With some modification to ensure local control, the bill deserves the Legislature's full support and governor's signature - that is, if they truly believe in the principle of "one person, one vote."

The city of Los Angeles, with some 37 percent of the county's population, has outsized influence on the Metro board and it has never been shy to use that disproportionate influence. The L.A. mayor controls a bloc of four board seats, while the 87 smaller cities in the county, including Long Beach with almost a half-million residents, collectively share four seats. The county supervisors, who represent the entire county, including the city of Los Angeles, also sit on the Metro board.

Mendoza's bill proposes adding board members to balance the representation, including a dedicated seat for Long Beach. It also proposes allowing the Legislature to appoint two members.

If the Legislature proposes appoints members, they should be nonvoting. Being strong supporters of local control, all additional voting members should be picked locally, with Los Angeles and Long Beach selecting their own members, and the other 86 cities choosing their representatives through the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee. Leaving out the supervisors, who represent everyone, the city of Los Angeles should end up with around 37 percent of the seats on the board, which would correspond to its proportion of the county's population.

In what was the political version of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, the special interests opposing the Mendoza bill threatened that its passage could endanger a $120 billion regressive transit sales tax the Metro board has planned for the November ballot.

That might actually have been a good thing.

The tax, as proposed, is not forward-thinking - with no dedicated funding for developing technologies such as autonomous vehicles - nor does it even try to address equitable transportation funding. For example, the expenditure plan includes an unnecessary $9.8 billion tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, while rail transit in the South Bay is ignored for at least another 10 to 15 years, despite the fact that Metro has the right-of-way from the present end of the Green Line to Torrance and the fact that Torrance is constructing a Regional Transit Center immediately adjacent to that same right-of-way.

Regional cooperation

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has often spoken of regional cooperation, but for that to mean anything at all, it needs to be based on mutual cooperation. If the city really wants to stop being the 800-pound gorilla, it needs to be prepared to share the decision-making power proportionally, especially when it comes to such important regional issues as transportation.

The Metro board seems less concerned with increasing mobility and more concerned with passing taxes and spending money - and not always in equitable ways. Because of the lack of proportional representation, in many cases Metro is not doing a very good job of serving the needs of its constituents.

Democracy works. And local control, when spread evenly and fairly, is the best form of democracy.
The sales tax proposal which will be before the county's voters this November is a forever tax, and forever is a long, long time. With such vast sums of public money at stake, equitable representation is a must.

The Metro board reform envisioned by SB 1472 could be a much needed catalyst to change Metro's corporate culture, finally allowing it to become a truly responsive, resident-friendly agency, which puts mobility for the entire county at the forefront, which is exactly where it should be.