The way that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and the cabalists of the San Gabriel Valley cities treated Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian over his Metropolitan Transportation Authority board appointment because he opposes the 710 Freeway tunnel project is symptomatic of a dangerous trend in our political culture.
We are seeing this kind of political thuggery in the name of righteousness in Washington, in Sacramento and in Los Angeles, where widely respected former Mayor Richard Riordan recently was humiliated publicly by the pipsqueak City Council President Herb Wesson for having the temerity to suggest real pension reform is needed to avoid bankruptcy.
Things have come to a pretty pass when we would rather cannibalize each other than respect each other, rather vilify our opponents than work out some kind of deal that balances our competing interests and values.
What happened to Najarian on the day before Pearl Harbor Day was a well-orchestrated sneak attack by Alhambra Mayor Barbara Messina and Duarte Mayor John Fasana. It marked an escalation of a destructive war that started last summer when Antonovich summarily threw Najarian off the Metrolink board of directors over his anti-710 extension stance and replaced him with his strange bedfellow ally, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose South L.A. district has zero commuter rail service.
Ringleaders Fasana and Messina lined up opposition to Najarian across enough of the county to narrowly deny him the 50% support needed for his appointment based on a population-weighted vote.
“There’s just no compromising with some people — it’s just like what is going on in Washington now between the Republicans and the Democrats,” Messina said. “We have been compromising for 28 years on this project. This vote was our opportunity to send a message to Najarian over his consistent attacks on the 710: ‘You’re sitting on a board representing all 87 cities, not just your sub-region, and you’re trying to sabotage this.’
“That’s not acceptable to us.”
Frustrated as she is by the widespread and long-standing opposition to the 710 extension from Alhambra to Pasadena, Messina insists the project is needed to meet air quality standards and get federal money.
“People don’t understand the significance of this. That’s the truly sad and unfortunate part. They have a not-in-my-backyard mind-set, a tunnel vision view, and it’s so not correct. We are really tired of it.”
Najarian — who has represented the region from Glendale north to the Antelope Valley and west to Agoura Hills and Malibu for six years and who won the unanimous support from those dozen cities for another term — had no idea about the plot when he arrived at the Dec. 6 meeting of the City Selection Committee that includes all 87 cities other than L.A. For years, the committee has approved the nominees from each region without question.
Each of the four sectors of the county gets one seat on the 13-member MTA board, the policy-making and contract-awarding body for tens of billions of dollars in transit and highway projects. The five supervisors and four L.A. city representatives make up the rest of the board.
“It’s such a pro forma, rubber-stamp thing that for the other cities to dictate this is just wrong,” Najarian said, noting his past support for light-rail extensions to Azusa and Claremont. “It’s just a power grab by the San Gabriel cities on a single issue that they don’t want to fight on its merits.”
Najarian has won support from Damien Newton at la.streetsblog.org who wrote: “In essence, both Fasana and Messina are complaining that Najarian is representing the wishes of his constituency too well and are doing their best to blunt that advocacy. Being on the Metro Board of Directors is not for the faint of heart.”
Similarly, Elise Kalfayan wrote on the Armenian community website asbarez.com that Najarian is the “lone MTA Board member insisting on accountability” in the 710 study process.
“The move by officials outside his representative sector calls into question the power of one sector to override the will and vote of another,” she wrote.
For his part, Najarian is not giving up without a fight. His appointment officially ends in January when the North County cities will decide whether to nominate him again. If they do, the countywide City Selection Committee in February will take up the issue with Najarian confident he will get support from the one or two cities he needs to stay on the MTA board.
“This was never so competitive before, where one area meddles in the rights of another area,” he said. “The last meeting was supposed to be a Christmas party and several cities weren’t represented. Now that they blocked the appointment solely because of my position on the 710, it will be different in February.”
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.