Los Angeles Daily News - Why a State Senator wants to add 2 members to the LA County Metro Transportation Board

April 27, 2016

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Posted: 04/26/16, 6:14 PM PDT | Updated: 14 hrs ago

A state senator wants to add two members to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)’s board of directors, saying the board is too L.A.-centric and ignores requests for rail and bus projects in the southeast county.

Senate Bill 1472, authored by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, has attracted attention from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, who share Mendoza’s viewpoint about Metro’s pro-west side bias.

The bill, which passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee last week by a 6-3 vote, has a good chance of passing out of the full Senate, he said.

Mendoza said he’s working with the cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, Lakewood, La Mirada, Long Beach, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Whittier and the communities of Hacienda Heights and West Whittier to gain their support.

“The city of Long Beach has an interest in getting their own vote (on Metro board) ... They are the second largest city in the county,” Mendoza said.

Long Beach City Councilman Robert Uranga echoed his sentiment: “Yes, absolutely. We should have a seat on that board dedicated to Long Beach itself,” he said Tuesday. The city has not taken a position on the bill.

The 14-member Metro board is made up of four members from the city of Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti plus three of his appointees; the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and four city members from each sub-region (San Fernando Valley/North County, Southwest County, San Gabriel Valley, Southeast Long Beach area). A non-voting member is appointed by the governor.

“Unfortunately, the current make-up of the board does not equitably reflect the county as a whole,” Mendoza said.

Under his bill, the Senate president pro-tem as part of the Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly Speaker will appoint two new city members. The new members must be elected officials and serve on a city council. Neither can be from the same city of residence of a current board member.

While Mendoza acknowledges the southeast cities have a voice in Lakewood City Councilwoman and Metro board member Diane Dubois, he said the balance of power tips toward the west side of the county, resulting in more money and projects built for wealthier residents than for those who are lower and middle-income in his district.

“It is not equal. We want a fair balance between the west side and this side of town, the eastern part of the county,” Mendoza said. “We don’t have as many votes as the west side. There are 87 cities that get only four votes.”

Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, first vice chair of the Metro board, strongly disagreed with the legislation. He said Mendoza’s bill hands power to the state Legislature, something Metro has resisted in the past.

“It is really a smokescreen,” Fasana said. “The question is: Who is doing the appointing? It is not what it purports to be,” he said. “This is an approach by the state to try to circumvent local control.”

Whittier City Councilman Fernando Dutra, chair of the city’s transportation committee, supports the bill. “I think this bill allows for better representation on the east side. And that is far overdue,” he said.

Part of the tension stems from criticism from Mendoza and others in the southeast of Metro’s 40-year expenditure plan that is being presented as a way to spend $120 billion on rail, bus and bike projects from a half-cent sales tax proposed for the November ballot. The plan pushed back the construction of the Eco-Rapid light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Norwalk by 20 years to a completion date in 2047.

Letters sent to Metro Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas on April 15, one signed by Mendoza and Rendon, the other by Mendoza, De Leon and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, asks Metro not to delay the project. In the Mendoza-Rendon letter, they wrote that the light-rail line was already approved for a 2027 completion under 2008’s Measure R.

“It is unacceptable that these (Measure R) projects will be pushed so far off, resequenced, and reordered, especially after the voters have already voted for them,” they wrote in the letter.

Expanding the board to 16 members as an effort to include more city voices is not unprecedented.

In fact, the Orange County Transportation Authority is comprised of 18 board members that include members from the county Board of Supervisors and many cities. City members are appointed based on population. The Bay Area Transportation Commission is made up of 21 members.

Mendoza is working on tweaking his bill. One possible amendment would ask underrepresented cities to nominate three candidates for each seat to be chosen. “We definitely want someone who actually has a stake in the game and would be accountable,” he said.