Power Struggle Erupts Over Who Should Head Super Transit Agency

Times Staff Writer

A power struggle erupted Wednesday over who should or should not be made the czar of Los Angeles' proposed transportation super agency, further threatening faltering legislation to abolish the troubled RTD.

In a sharp reversal of its earlier support of the proposal, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission voted to oppose the super agency bill by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) unless amendments added last week are removed.

The newest dispute, part of a battle for power at the top of an agency that would have unprecedented influence over shaping future travel in the region, centers on what some observers see as the "Dyer amendment" to the legislation.

Critics of the RTD have blamed the transit district's general manager, John Dyer, for many of the reported management problems. A provision added last week to the Katz legislation would prohibit any employee of the RTD or the county Transportation Commission from becoming executive director of the super agency.

'Clean Slate'

Katz said the change is primarily designed to give the new transportation agency a "clean slate," but was at least partially aimed at Dyer. "I don't think you reform anything if you put John Dyer in charge," he said.

However, the transportation commission, which would essentially absorb the RTD under the reorganization plan and has been a key supporter, claims that the prohibition brands all upper managers at both agencies as unqualified.

Commissioners say the issue is one of dangerous state intrusion into local matters, rather than a desire to ensure their executive director, Rick Richmond, has a chance at the prestigious new post.

"I want every person . . . who thinks they are capable of performing to be able to apply," said Christine Reed, chairwoman of the commission's legislative committee. "The Legislature doesn't know anything about any of these people, expect possibly (Dyer and Richmond)."

Would Fight Bill

Reed said the commission, made up of representatives of the county Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council and suburban City Council members, would fight the reorganization bill unless the restriction comes out. Such opposition would be confined to lobbying efforts by the commission. The reorganization bill is entirely in the hands of the Legislature.

Despite the commission's objections, Katz and a spokeswoman for state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), who has authored a similar bill, said the amendment is in the bill to stay. Terri Burns, a Robbins aide, said the restriction ensures that there will not be favoritism shown to RTD or commission managers when the two agencies merge. The two agencies, which are competing for public attention and funding, have a history of bureaucratic warfare that has left considerable bitterness. "It's very important. . . . Many members of the Legislature have raised the issue of how do we protect employees," Burns said. Katz said he did not believe that commission or local government opposition to the Dyer amendment alone would be enough to stop the bill. "I don't think it is a substantive objection," he said.

Opposition Restated

The commission also on Wednesday restated its opposition to another amendment by Robbins that would create an additional seat on the super agency board for a San Fernando Valley resident.

Reed, a Santa Monica City Council member, said the extra seat would give the City of Los Angeles too much power.

Robbins has indicated that he wants the seat. He insists that it is a matter of fair representation for the Valley. Others have said it could also give him a platform for greater media attention and campaign fund-raising in Los Angeles.

Katz opposes the extra seat, saying it could upset the delicate balance of power between cities and the county on the county transportation commission. In one of the first signs that super agency legislation is in trouble, Katz has warned that by pushing his amendment Robbins is threatening to scuttle the bill.

Katz and Robbins have been negotiating to resolve the matter, but no progress had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.

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