Najarian gains Schiff's support in fight to keep MTA board seat

Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian now has a congressman in his corner as he fights to keep his board seat on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In December, representatives from 10 cities in the San Gabriel Valley voted against Najarian's confirmation, after members from the North Cities sector, which includes Glendale and Burbank, had nominated him for another four-year term on the MTA Board of Directors.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has since sent a letter to the selection committee in support of Najarian, who claims he lost what is typically a procedural vote in part because of his opposition to a potential tunnel connecting the Long Beach (710) Freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway.

Key in the push to remove his voice from the discourse at the MTA level, Najarian says, is its current chairman, county Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

“I can tell you Michael Antonovich, in no uncertain terms, wants to remove me from the MTA board. He already removed me from the Metrolink board — fortunately, the decision to remove me is not solely up to him,” Najarian said.

Najarian pointed out that, as chairman of a powerful county agency with influence over regional transportation funds, Antonovich is in a prime position to exert political pressure on cities to achieve a certain end.

Najarian said Antonovich wanted him off the MTA board primarily for his support of Measure J, the half-cent sales tax extension that the supervisor opposed on the grounds that it short-changed much of his district. Measure J was narrowly defeated at the polls.

“A county supervisor comes to you and says, ‘You better vote against Najarian or you're going to have a hard time getting funding for that public works project you've been asking for'…. [Antonovich] is using his influence on these cities,” Najarian said.

In a statement, the county supervisor categorically denied Najarian's claims.

“It is pathetic that he would deliberately lie to distract attention from the serious concerns in the North County/San Fernando Valley corridor about his failed ability to adequately represent the area,” Antonovich said.

But in his letter, Schiff admonished member cities for being narrow-minded when looking at Najarian's candidacy, and said his position on the 710 Freeway extension should not overshadow his “superb record” of fiscal conservatism. Schiff pointed to the Glendale councilman's record of ensuring funds were available for the 2010 expansion of the light rail Gold Line and his “careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

Najarian said Schiff's letter would hopefully influence the selection committee.

“I think it's huge when a senior congressman weighs in and says, ‘Hey, you're fiddling around with parochial interests in a board that's delicately balanced — back off,'” he said.

Rex Parris, mayor of Lancaster, said he wasn't planning to vote for Najarian when the issue comes back on March 7, but not because it was at Antonovich's behest.

“It's that I've never met [Najarian], I've never talked to him,” he said. “We need somebody from north L.A. County who's going to be responsive to us.”

The mayors of Santa Clarita and Palmdale — major players in the north area sector — could not be reached for comment.


Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.

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