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Derailing Shortsightedness

Everyone who lives in the Los Angeles area agrees that traffic is getting worse and that something should be done about it. The disagreements come when we try to decide precisely what to do. Gov. George Deukmejian is getting a taste of what those disputes can be like as an array of local officials urge him to veto a potentially important funding bill for the Metro Rail subway system.

Senate Bill 2111 is designed to lift the bonding limit for the subway project, whose first operating segment from downtown Los Angeles to the Westlake area is already under construction.

By allowing the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to raise more local money for the subway through revenue bonds, the bill would help guarantee continued funding for future project segments into Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, as the bill was enacted by the Legislature in the final days of its most recent session, Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) added an amendment that would set aside 15% of the transit money raised in Los Angeles County for projects in the San Fernando Valley.

Robbins is worried that the final Metro Rail segment into the Valley and other mass-transitprojects planned there could be eliminated if there is a shortfall in local transportation funds. But his amendment would set an unfortunate precedent by requiring that a certain percentage of local transit tax money be spent in a specific area. The main reason Los Angeles has been able to make progress on local transit funding in recent years is because the need for better mass transit has been discussed as a regional problem that will require regional solutions. Robbins has unwisely brought neighborhood rivalries into the discussion.

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That is why many local officials, including members of the transportation commission, are urging Deukmejian to veto SB 2111. Normally we would sympathize with those requests. But in this case the need to lift the bonding limit for Metro Rail seems to be a more important goal. The first segment of the subway is not just ahead of schedule but is even coming in under budget. That is an encouraging start that will help generate the political momentum needed to keep Metro Rail construction moving toward the San Fernando Valley.

The governor should sign SB 2111, but once it is law the Legislature should eliminate Robbins’ shortsighted amendment during its next session.


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