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Directors Put Off Vote on MTA Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a victory for Latino leaders, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors put off a vote Thursday on its recovery plan in hopes that two weeks of additional study will find transit alternatives to a subway extension into the Eastside.

“They’re making progress,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who had objected to the plan’s provision for completion of a subway extension to North Hollywood while leaving the transit-dependent Eastside without any promise of improved public transportation.

The board also voted Thursday to extend transit chief Julian Burke’s appointment by two years, even as it delayed by two weeks a vote on his plan for regaining federal transit officials’ confidence in the MTA’s fiscal responsibility.

Mayor Richard Riordan, chairman of the MTA board, urged his colleagues to take a fresh look at the county’s transportation plans, including studying how the bus system can be improved, even with the MTA’s budget problems.

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The study is designed to address the concerns of Latino elected officials, who have threatened to oppose federal funding for a subway extension to North Hollywood unless the Eastside receives some guarantee of improved mass transit.

One of those Eastside officials, County Supervisor and MTA board member Gloria Molina, said: “Let’s face it. Today isn’t a great victory. The reality is that they didn’t have the votes. . . . At least right now, we’re getting them to respond to some issues that have been raised.”

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Riordan, who backed the two-week delay, said after the vote: “The important thing was that there was 100% consensus that we have to look into better ways to use our present resources to improve transportation, particularly to the transit-dependent Eastside.”

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He added: “We have to come up with a plan to show how we can do even better than that if we get additional resources.” Among the possibilities, he said, is using busways.

The recovery plan--the third one drafted by the agency--is intended to satisfy federal concerns about financial and political chaos at the MTA. The agency must adopt an acceptable plan before congressional deliberations begin next month if it hopes to secure the $100 million requested for the North Hollywood subway extension.

Molina questioned how board members could approve a plan that they had not seen. Burke said his staff was still working on the document.

“I cannot begin to tell you how insulting this is,” she said. “What I’m being asked to do is to have some blind faith.”

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Even as the board attempted to work out its latest political problems, new troubles were breaking out.

In Sacramento, Assembly Speaker Antonio R. Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) asked the California Transportation Commission to require the MTA to submit a plan by the end of the year showing how it will improve transit to the Eastside, Mid-City and San Fernando Valley. If the MTA fails to do so, he said, the state should take nearly $400 million in state funds away from the MTA and spend the money itself on transit projects.

“What they’re saying is we can’t build the eastern extension. There is no money,” Villaraigosa said. “That’s not good enough.”

The MTA board earlier this year suspended long-promised subway extensions to the Eastside and Mid-City and a light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena because of funding problems.

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In Washington, Rep. Esteban Torres (D-Pico Rivera), a member of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee, said the committee will hold hearings in Los Angeles next month to find out why the MTA “can’t get their act together.” Torres, however, said he viewed the MTA action Thursday with a “tinge of positiveness.”

But in Los Angeles on Thursday, advocates for bus riders declared that they have reached an impasse with the MTA over whether the agency is complying with a federal court order to reduce overcrowding on buses. The parties appear headed to the court-appointed special master for a ruling on their dispute.

During the meeting on the recovery plan, Burke told the board that the document has been misunderstood, that it is designed only to respond to federal demands that the MTA show that it can complete the subway extension to North Hollywood and comply with a court order directing bus improvements.

“The suspension of the these projects is not relevant to getting ourselves into a position where the [Federal Transit Administration] and Congress are comfortable in continuing to fund to completion our Red Line North Hollywood project,” Burke said.

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Molina responded angrily that the plan says, in effect, “I am finishing the tunnel by stealing all of the local money.”

Some board members expressed concern about the message that the board was sending to federal officials who are concerned about the MTA’s finances and management by delaying a vote on the plan for a second time this month.

“We look foolish on a regular basis,” Molina said, adding that it would be worse for the board to “deny the debate that must go on.”

“This is the problem with this board,” she said. “We don’t build consensus. That’s what the federal government is saying to us: Get together, figure out where you want to go before we give you the money.”’

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Molina said she hopes that the board will consider slowing down the North Hollywood subway extension in order to free up funds for the completion of a light-rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena.

The previous recovery plans were rejected by federal authorities as financially unsound.

Although the new plan shows that the MTA still faces serious financial problems--including facing budget deficits for the next year or two--Burke said that should not prevent federal approval “if they have confidence that this management describes what the problem is and shows we are working on it.”

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Riordan said that he hopes the MTA hires outside experts to complete a study on transit alternatives within 90 days.

* QUIRKY PERKS: Unlike other board members, county supervisors’ MTA fees are included in pensions. B2


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