Like two old war horses going to battle each other yet again as they have done so often for so long — Antonovich and Yaroslavsky, two county supervisors, politically untouchable, masters of the game of power.
The setting for Monday’s combat between Antonovich and Yaroslavsky was a forum put on by the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments — a one-year-0ld quasi-governmental agency that for the first time brings Burbank, Glendale, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and the 1.4 million residents of the LA who live north of Mulholland Drive together to try to fight for their common interests.
The operative word is try. Unlike other COGs that cover almost the entire county, the Valley COG must have unanimity to act and gets almost no funding from the two county supervisors or from its seven LA City Councilmembers who are members. None of the Valley members even bothered to show up Monday.
The issue was the recent decision by the MTA board to ask voters to approve extension of the Measure R one-half percent sales tax approved for 30 years in 2008 for another 30 years until 2069 with the goal being to borrow all 60 years of projected revenue and spend it now to speed completion of the projects promised four years ago. (see timeline below or view file MTAprojects)
Antonovich, noting he was joined in MTA opposition by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, talked about the promises that were abandoned after passage of Measure R-1: Extension of Gold Line to Claremont, Green Line to LAX among others.
Along with Councilwoman Marsha McLain of Santa Clarita, he condemned the continued use of 2004 population numbers for divvying up transportation money when LA is losing population and the North County and East County are gaining population.
Most of all, Antonovich sounded like a populist Democratic, calling the decision to go forward a “rush to judgment” and referred to much of what is going on as “stupid.”
He said Measure R-2 was going forward without re-evaluating the original project list and bringing all the communities in the county into the discussion. He noted the MTA board is stacked against the county’s 87 cities with six million people get four seats while LA with four million people also gets four seats.
For his part, Yaroslavsky also stuck to his talking points mainly focused on this being an historic opportunity to expand public transit: the subway to Westwood, the Expo Line to Culver City and Santa Monica, the Crenshaw Line, the Orange Line busway extension to Chatsworth and the downtown connector which will finally provide a link between the various rail lines and subway.
Low interest rates — assuming bonds can be sold for revenue 60 years out — and high unemployment in the construction trades provide the chance to build badly-needed infrastructure in the next 10 to 12 years instead of decades from now.
He dismissed questions about equity, fairness, even if these are the most worthwhile projects, arguing to reopen the discussion now could blow the chance to put the construction industry to work and build critical infrastructure while we can.
It wasn’t a close call on who was right from where I sat as someone who fought against Measure R-1 as unfair to the Greater San Fernando Valley which was served by my newspaper.
The charts above supplied by the SFV COG show just how great the disparity is: 37 percent of the people in LA get 13 percent of the Measure R money, 15 percent of the county’s population gets 5 percent of the money.
The reason traffic congestion is so bad throughout the county is precisely because we have not thoroughly discussed and evaluated with full public involvement our options, our goals, our needs, values and interests.
It has always been about who makes the money, the contractors, unions, developers, designers, engineers, consultants, lobbyists and so on — and not about the greatest good for the greatest number.
I get Yaroslavsky’s expediency: it’s so frustrating going back to the table when everyone who shows up has his hand out demanding more without regard to others interest.
I get Antonovich’s newfound commitment to open and transparent democratic processes: His record of getting what he wants is impeccable.
But look at their records: Yaroslavsky with Marvin Braude got kudos for a no-growth ballot measure that did little or nothing to stop the city from becoming one of the densest in America and with the MTA mired in one scandal after another, he got the one-half percent sales tax for subways abolished — something he help restore with Measure R-1 and now with Measure R-2.
For his part, Antonovich helped scuttle any hope of the Valley ever getting a light rail by muddling the issue and fragmenting political support with his ballot referendum on monorail all the way to Pasadena.
By then, the whole political system — including the elected officials who represented the Valley — had killed the legal commitment for a subway across the Valley, which left the Valley with no choice but to accept the busway or get nothing at all. The fact that is the singularly most successful transit project dollar for dollar is testament to the public’s willingness to use transit if it works even modestly.
If the money for Measure R-1 and R-2 had been spent to build busways and rapid buses, street cars and some light rail, LA County could actually have an efficient public transit system that would get millions of people out of their cars within a decade because it would have high frequency and good connectivity — the critical elements that the current plan does not achieve.
In fact, bus services are being cut year after year, fares are rising, and only modest gains in ridership are being achieved.
A decade from now when the taxes have already been spent for the next half century, we will facing even worse congestion, according to MTA projections, and will still be asking when do we get a public transit system that works.