Saying that plans for a driverless train should be "junked," Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky called Thursday for a grand jury examination of the decision to construct the Metro Rail's high-tech Green Line and the selection of Japanese-owned Sumitomo Corp. to build it.
Although neither Yaroslavsky nor the council have any authority over the matter, he said he will ask council members today to come down against the automated mass transit system with a vote urging county transportation officials to back away from the plan. Council members Joy Picus and Joel Wachs also have asked that the council urge reconsideration of the contract.
The high-tech system has been strongly advocated by Mayor Tom Bradley, a longtime political foe of Yaroslavsky's. Two weeks ago, Bradley pushed the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to approve the system for use on the Norwalk-to-El Segundo Green Line.
Yaroslavsky said the LACTC, on which Bradley sits, still has time to reverse its decision and could do so at its next meeting on Jan. 22.
Neil Peterson, executive director of the commission, said Thursday that the contract with Sumitomo has not been signed, but a reversal could cause legal problems.
As designed, the Green Line would be the nation's first driverless mass transit line, using technology distinct from the Blue Line trolley, which has been running since 1990, and the Red Line subway, which is scheduled to open in 1993. The technical incompatibility of these lines has been criticized by several local officials because it will likely increase the costs of buying, maintaining and operating each.
At a news conference, Yaroslavsky said the system is too expensive and its driverless technology is unproven.
"This could end up being a very big embarrassment," Yaroslavsky said. "Suppose it doesn't work. We cannot afford in a county this big, and with the kind of money that's at stake, to be the laboratory for transit technology around the country."
Yaroslavsky said he wants the grand jury to conduct a management audit--not a criminal investigation--of the process that gave the green light to driverless trains. He said he has no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Civil grand juries are made up of citizens appointed to examine aspects of local government and generally issue informational reports rather than indictments.
Yaroslavsky said the decision to construct the system "got made by lobbyists," and was not in the public's best interests.
He denounced the intense and expensive lobbying efforts on behalf of Sumitomo and the losing bidder, Morrison-Knudsen Corp. of Boise, Ida. He asked that the county commission immediately institute rules requiring financial disclosure by lobbyists.
Unlike other public agencies, the commission does not require lobbyists to disclose the fees they are paid on behalf of bidders.
Peterson said he agrees with Yaroslavsky's call for greater disclosure by transportation lobbyists.
Peterson said the staff concluded that Sumitomo has greater technical expertise than Morrison-Knudsen and that that outweighed Morrison-Knudsen's ability to produce more jobs in the United States.