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Funding fall guy

A lot of peculiar things happen in Sacramento, but last week’s political hatchet job on the director of L.A. County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority was strange even by Capitol standards.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) called for Roger Snoble’s resignation, sending a letter to the MTA board that blamed Snoble for failing to drum up enough transportation bond money for Southern California. This is odd given that the failure had little or nothing to do with Snoble.

In 2006, California voters approved nearly $20 billion worth of transportation bonds, of which $2 billion is dedicated to goods movement -- the infrastructure needed to move cargo to and from the ports. Snoble was part of a coalition of transportation chiefs from five Southern California counties that lobbied decision makers last fall, rightly arguing that because 85% of the goods passing through California goes through those five counties, they deserved at least 70% of the goods-movement pot.

The coalition didn’t get what it wanted. Last week, the state Transportation Commission doled out $1.65 billion to the five counties -- which, because the commission ultimately approved $3 billion worth of projects (many of which won’t really get funded), adds up to only 56.5% of the total. Nunez is furious at Snoble in part because the coalition agreed to the low number during a two-day trip to Sacramento in November. Yet the local transportation chiefs are adamant that they got the best possible deal for their region, and moreover, Snoble was one of about a dozen agency heads involved. So why was he singled out for Nunez’s scorn? Meanwhile, Nunez blames Snoble for the fact that the MTA sponsored just one of the 53 projects put forward for funding by the coalition. But the MTA is a public transit agency; there is no conceivable reason why it should have sponsored more goods-movement projects.

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The attack on Snoble is so unjustified that it strongly suggests there are unspoken political motivations at work. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have provided a hint about those motives when he put out a release saying he took Nunez’s complaints seriously and would direct the MTA board to investigate. Villaraigosa, a friend of Nunez’s, has long had a chilly relationship with Snoble, whose contract expires in September, and may be seeking to replace him.

Snoble represents a vast improvement over past MTA directors. When it’s time for the MTA board to consider extending his contract, it should judge him on his merits -- not on Nunez’s absurd character assassination.


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