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Mayor Rolls Out His Transit Team

Times Staff Writer

After taking a brief ride on the Gold Line and singing “Happy Birthday” to a 10-year-old passenger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced his three MTA board appointees at Union Station on Wednesday.

Villaraigosa also reiterated a pledge to improve traffic flow in the city, lure more people from their cars with transit projects and to lobby much harder for state and federal funding for traffic solutions.

The mayor’s appointees are Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, former Assemblyman Richard Katz and David Fleming, chairman of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

They will join the 13-member MTA board, and Villaraigosa will be its chairman. The board has the power to approve Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects. The agency’s service area includes much of Los Angeles County.

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The mayor also introduced his new deputy mayor for transportation, Jaime de la Vega, who was former Mayor Richard Riordan’s transportation deputy.

“The biggest transportation bill in years will hit the president’s desk this fall,” Fleming said, “and it will determine where money is spent for the next 10 years. And if we’re going to get our fair share, now is the time to act.”

The mayor and his appointees offered a glimpse of their transit agenda. Buses, they said, will remain the backbone of the system, but large rail projects will continue to be pursued, including most prominently the Red Line subway extension under Wilshire Boulevard and the light-rail Expo Line from downtown to Culver City and beyond.

Extending the subway won’t be easy, at an estimated cost of $2.7 billion. The mayor said such a line, if built, would be one of the most popular in the United States.

But he acknowledged that he must lobby to repeal a federal ban on tunneling in the Fairfax district because of methane gas and to repeal a ban on using county sales tax money for tunneling. But money appears to be the biggest obstacle. Katz, an Assembly member for 16 years and chairman of its Transportation Committee for 10 years, has close ties to Sacramento. Fleming is a bridge to the business community and Republicans who are often swing votes on transit issues.

“We’re going to be very aggressive” getting funds, Villaraigosa said. “All of us have personal relationships with our congressional delegation, and I spoke to Gov. Schwarzenegger on the Fourth of July about transit as a major priority we can both work on.”

The mayor can appoint three members to the MTA board. The appointments made by Mayor James K. Hahn were members of the City Council -- Ed Reyes, Tom LaBonge and Martin Ludlow, who resigned from the council July 1 to become interim chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Reyes and LaBonge had endorsed Hahn for mayor.

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On Friday, in his first day in office, Villaraigosa met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is well known for taking the subway to work in Manhattan.

On Wednesday morning, Villaraigosa commuted from his Mount Washington home to the Gold Line’s Southwest Museum stop via a black city-owned SUV.

He got on the train with a small contingent of reporters and began working the “room.” A few riders shouted out “the mayor,” while others returned to their reading materials.

In the lead car, Villaraigosa found political nirvana -- 10-year-old Madeline Barry, who told the mayor it was her birthday. In response, he started a “Happy Birthday” sing-along, with several members of his staff and other passengers joining in.

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The City Council also got aboard on transportation issues on Wednesday, unanimously passing a resolution that the state should finish building a carpool lane in both directions on the San Diego Freeway between the 10 and 101 freeways.


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