A labor-sponsored bill to reform the troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority by enabling voters to directly elect board members was defeated Monday night by the Assembly Transportation Committee.
The bill by state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) fell far short of the nine votes required for approval, getting only two, with three against. The defeat represented a victory for Mayor Richard Riordan and supporters of the MTA and a defeat for the United Transportation Union and other labor organizations.
The MTA, which underwent a major overhaul by the Legislature in 1992, has been plagued by controversy, ranging from campaign contributions from contractors to the collapse of a major section of a subway tunnel along Hollywood Boulevard last May.
“This agency is an agency out of control,” Polanco told the committee. “It acts like it just doesn’t care about its riders or the taxpayers.”
Polanco said his bill would have made the MTA board more accountable and responsive by electing 14 directors from seven election districts in the county. The current board includes the five county supervisors, the mayor of Los Angeles, three mayoral appointees and four council members from other cities.
Committee Chairman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), author of the 1992 reform bill, denounced the MTA as “corrupt in many ways and in need of change.” However, he announced his opposition to the Polanco proposal and a companion measure by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) that would restrict campaign contributions to board members.
Katz said he intends to hold a hearing in September in Los Angeles to give the MTA an opportunity to propose ways to reform itself, and if the agency fails to do so, “we should do it for them.”
Representatives of the MTA, including board Chairman Larry Zarian, a Glendale city councilman, applauded Katz’s offer of a second chance. Some opponents of the bill, including Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden, contended there was no showing that the agency was either corrupt or incompetent.