A festive Chinatown groundbreaking ceremony celebrating the resumption of construction on the long-delayed light rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena was disrupted Friday by Bus Riders Union protesters, who accused officials of backing costly rail projects instead of better bus service.
The dozen demonstrators interrupted remarks by Mayor Richard Riordan and state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), but their main target was Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), a onetime supporter whom they accused of deserting them in his quest to become mayor of Los Angeles.
“Why don’t you buy more buses instead of wasting this money on rail?” shouted Joe Itow as the former Assembly speaker began to speak.
As a police officer sought to silence another Bus Riders Union organizer, Villaraigosa confronted his critics. “Let me finish,” he demanded as the taunts continued. “I’m . . . not afraid of demagogues who get up and misrepresent the story.”
The former Assembly speaker insisted the state and local money going to the $683-million rail line could not have been used to buy more buses. He reminded his critics that he was the first member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board to assist in their lawsuit to force the transit agency to reduce overcrowding and improve bus service.
While he still favors more money for buses, Villaraigosa hailed the Pasadena rail project as an important example of a new, more cost-effective way to build rail lines in Los Angeles.
State lawmakers last year stripped the MTA of responsibility for building the Pasadena project after the transit agency spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, mostly on plans and construction or upgrading of bridges along the rail route. A new agency, the Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority, was created to complete the job.
Riordan told the crowd of about 200 guests that “it takes leadership to get things to happen.”
The mayor said the rail line would give commuters an alternative to worsening traffic congestion on the Pasadena Freeway and provide access to quality jobs along the route.
When his turn came, Polanco pledged to work with the bus riders to “bring a remedy and closure” to the long fight between advocates of better bus service and rail proponents.