For this editorial, three questions were posed to some high-ranking mass transit officials around the nation. They all hail from established transit systems that do not directly compete with Los Angeles for new construction funds. Their responses were very instructive.
The questions: If you were offered the post of CEO for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a huge salary, would you accept? Why or why not? And if not, what would make you reconsider?
In all cases, the answer to the first question was “no,” and the reason given was too much political interference and micro-management by the MTA board. “Too incestuous,” one official said. From another: “What happens there causes fear and trepidation in the hearts of managers.” The job was described as “a man-eater.” In answer to the third question, all said the board would have to drastically change its ways.
And what’s going on as the search for a new MTA chief executive continues? A new wave of destructive local and state political interference, that’s what.
That’s a shame because federal transportation officials had finally convinced the MTA and its board to commit to a pared-down plan that can comply with a court consent decree calling for better bus service and perhaps also complete rail extensions to North Hollywood, East Los Angeles and Mid-City.
But there was state Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), pushing for design funds for an east-west San Fernando Valley subway line and for express busways on Crenshaw and Exposition boulevards. And there was the Los Angeles City Council, voting to hold hostage $200 million in payments to the MTA to force the agency to keep moving on the Valley line.
The council action is a bald-faced attempt to rewrite history into still another claim that the Valley has been shortchanged. Never mind that the Valley’s own leadership couldn’t even agree on a route for that line. There is no consensus to this day, which sensibly led to the decision to expend dwindling rail funds on other lines that at least had a route to follow.
Meanwhile, the Legislature’s black caucus vowed to block a $54-million state loan for the Pasadena light rail line to downtown Los Angeles, pending a “real financial commitment” to improve transit service in the county’s African American communities.
Several bills to reform the MTA and its board are still alive in Sacramento, but would they really force the local players to behave?
The MTA already has its collective hands full with the consent decree on bus service and an increasingly impatient federal government. So here’s a message to the City Council and state lawmakers: Just back off.
MTA reform bills are one thing. But ham-handed, interfering foolishness is another, viewed with increasing displeasure by the federal government and the very talented people who might otherwise have applied to become chief executive of the MTA.