Metro Sort of Passes Budget, Punts on Ansaldo Breda, Insults Public

5_28_09_box.jpgPhoto of poster appearing outside Metro Board Room by Stephen Box.

The big news from today’s Metro Board meeting was that after our leaders subjected themselves to the pain of listening to the public, they were able to sorta-kinda pass the FY 2010 budget and put off a decision on whether to abandon their contract with Ansaldo Breda for another two months.

If this article seems at all sarcastic, angry or mean-spirited it’s because the level of governmental dysfunction shown by the Metro Board earlier today was out-of-control.  Apparently the Board had a lot of really important things to do today besides their jobs so they punted on major decisions and tried to rush the public so they could still be there to show support to their favorite projects or special interests.  Picture a science fair where none of the students bothered to research or prepare for the fair.  Then picture all of the participants showing up a half hour late.  That was the feel of today’s Metro Board Meeting.

Hint to the Metro Board: You’re more likely to be on time to the meeting if you actually take transit instead of driving there yourself.

The FY 2010 Budget

I have to qualify the passage of the budget because before debate on the slew of budget related amendments could be passed, the Board was informed that the bulk of the motions were illegal.  Undaunted, and needing to preserve funding for their special projects, the Board voted to pass the budget in spirit including all amendments that would fund other projects with many of the sources of those funds left T.B.A. 

The projects, such as the Harbor Gateway and Gold Line Foothill Extension, that were to receive extra funds from the budget will receive some sort of funds found from some other place in Metro’s deep pockets.   While these projects are now "funded" the Board will have to vote on their funding again next month.  Shockingly, it turns out that the Metro Board can’t just change the timetable passed by voters when we approved Measure R last year.  Stupid voters and the public will!  It keeps getting in the way of our rulers best intentions for us.  A full list of all the projects that were sorta-kinda funded can be found under item #9 on today’s agenda.

I guess it’s a good thing that Metro is running a huge surplus and has money just lying around to fund whatever the Board wants or else I would think that today was an exercise in public relations that had no bearing on reality.  Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

The debate on the FY 2010 Budget came after public comment, passage of the consent agenda, reports by Board Chair Villaraigosa and Metro CEO Art Leahy, the debate on the fate of Ansaldo Breda, and general confusion by the Board.  Pam O’Connor had already left on "city business" and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas seemed outraged that he was being kept away from whatever else was on his schedule.  The Board seemed annoyed that the public wanted to speak before their vote, with Villaraigosa warning that he was about to lose quorum if the peasants wouldn’t put down their damm pitchforks and let the adults get on with real business.  When people still wanted to speak, he relented to state law and Metro’s bylaws and let the peasants have their say.

Honestly?  If I were either the Bus Rider’s Union or the members of Fix Expo, I would have gotten everyone I could to testify in another language, doubling their speakers time for translation, and basically filibuster the Board.  If they can’t be troubled to clear their calendar to do their jobs, it’s really not the public’s problem.

Comment on the budget resolutions was dominated by political leaders talking up their favorite local project that was due to sorta-kinda get money; South and West L.A. residents demanding a safer Expo Line and B.R.U. members and supporters demanding that any budget with bus cuts get rejected.  While their were some notable exceptions, the Board seemed, well, bored with the process.  Villaraigosa and Ridley-Thomas left.  Board Members Katz and Fasana stood behind Katz’s seat and read their blackberries and chatted.  L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, Lakewood City Council Woman Diane Duboise
and Caltrans representative Doug Failing deserve Gold Stars for at
least pretending to care what the public was saying.

The Metro Board will officially pass whatever funding schemes the staff devises for their favorite projects during discussion of the 2009 2010 Long Range Transportation Plan.

Board Punts on Decision on Ansaldo Breda Contract

Personally, I never saw a point in repeating what someone else has already written just to see it appear under my byline.  Blogdowntown’s Eric Richardson had an article on the debate and vote of the Metro Board’s decision to stick with Ansaldo Breda posted within two minutes of the final vote.

After a contentious negotiation, the board instructed Metro’s CEO to
negotiate the financial guarantee by June 15, and voted 10-1 to extend
the contract option until July 31.

The lone no vote was cast by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who
argued that the transit operator’s previous problems with Ansaldo Breda
demanded a competitive bid. He asked whether the financial guarantee
would "provide cab fare for the people who would be riding the line" if
the rail cars don’t get built on time.

The only thing I will add is that sticking with its "contempt for the little guy" theme in this month’s meeting, Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky cut off what was non-relevant testimony by longtime gadfly John Walsh while he was attacking the Mayor for selling out the city.  However, he didn’t see the need to shut off the microphone nor shout for security to remove the speaker while any of the union members or leaders present testified on how the Board needed to support Ansaldo Breda because of the impact it could have on local jobs. 

The Metro Board is legally not allowed to consider where the cars will be built when making the decision to whom to award the contract.  Of course, I would bet the mortgage that eventually Ansaldo Breda will be awarded the final contract without it ever going to open bid.

Villaraigosa Leads Board in Showing Contempt for Public

The clear low light of the day was caused by the contempt shown for the public by the Board at nearly every turn. 

From the sign greeting the public that stated it would stop accepting public comment cards the moment the meeting began bucking the process at every other Metro Board Meeting I’ve attended, to starting the meeting with public comment instead of ending it delaying votes on crucial issues while we waited for Villaraigosa to grace us with his presence, to Villaraigosa’s hour and a half late arrival compounded by his whining that the public’s desire to comment on the budget was going to require him to leave before the vote, to the slew of Board Members that hadn’t bothered to clear their schedules for the most important meeting of the year; the Board presented the public a picture of a group of elected leaders completely out of touch with reality who view the public as obstacles to their rule.

Hey, he might not have had time to show up to the meeting on time or stay for a vote on the Budget, but at least Board Chair Villaraigosa was able to grandstand during the "Board Chair’s Report" and had time to pose for pictures with Metro’s entrants in the transit rodeo.

La Linea de Oro

One thing that came up repeatedly in public comment was the renaming of the Gold Line in Boyle Heights to La Linea de Oro.  Despite a Metro press release stating that the renaming had huge public support, a handful of community leaders showed up to wonder who exactly this public was.  They opposed the renaming and pointed out that none of their community groups nor the Neighborhood Council had been asked their opinion.  Maybe LADOT did their public outreach for them.

  • To reiterate Sam Pedroza’s public comment during the rushed-public-comments period: ditto.

  • ^^^ I meant ditto on the out-of-control part. The meeting did seem out of control at times and I was actually confused during the group-all-item-9-comments-together period. I haven’t been to too many board meetings so I’m wondering if this was a first (hence Damien’s wrath).

  • This is a disgrace.

  • Yet not going to change. The legislature has no interest in messing with the composition of the Metro Board. We are stuck with the kindergarteners.

  • It was beyond outrageous.

    First off, public comment was filled with statements by politicians and the Astroturf organization Build-It-and-I-Will-Ride Gold Liners who were all commenting on Item 9 – the budget.

    Why the acting Chair (Knabe) didn’t just stop the first or second person and tell them they would be called up at Item 9 instead (a procedure done at many meetings in the past at MTA and Board of Supervisors) was beyond me. I thought it was a stall tactic (Knabe buying time for Villaraigosa to get there) until two hours later board members started clearing the room. Then it was clearly incompetence.

    The few of us who actually followed the rules (including several South Bay politicians) by putting in our cards for Item 9, had to sit there not only to wait 60-90 mins for people to speak during the wrong item, but then wait on the 10 minute Chair’s report about nothing and then listen to the Ansaldobreda B.S. consume some 30-45 mins of the meeting.

    If everyone’s schedule was so tight, why wasn’t the budget moved to the top of the agenda?

    In fact, I was confident that it would be – if only because I and everyone else in the room knew the politicians would flood the room and beg for money/kiss the ring for their pet projects.

    The kicker though was the board members talking for 10-15 mins talking about how the 40 public comment cards submitted for the budget was going to make them lose a quorum (IT DIDN’T). And the irony of course, is that in talking about how to wiggle out of having to consider public comment for the budget, they began discussing the item – which then mandated that public comment be allowed per the Brown Act.

    After they started the meeting late, mismanaged public comment, put the train manufacturing B.S. at the top of the agenda (after the Consent Calendar), they then had the audacity to complain THAT MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC ACTUALLY WANTED TO COMMENT ON THE 3.9 FRICKING BILLION DOLLAR ANNUAL BUDGET?!

    And lastly, there were pretty clear court rulings stating that the Brown Act prevents public comment from being “closed” at the beginning of the meeting. As long as the card is in by the time the item comes up you can speak. The Board of Supervisors used to try to do the same thing, and now they have to take public comment and provide…imagine the thought…THREE WHOLE MINS FOR EACH MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC to comment on an item prior to board consideration.

  • “Villaraigosa Leads Board in Showing Contempt for Public?” Seriously, I thought this was a news blog. What’s next, reporting that the sun came up this morning?

  • The problem is Don is too nice of a guy. If you go to fundraisers, retirement parties, etc. he is always one of the last to leave, standing their chatting with anyone he happens to remember the first name to. The MTA Board IMHO is a disaster. My preferred solution would be that the county supervisors (who are elected by geographic area in both incorporated and unincorporated areas) appoint someone to be their representative. Therefore you have a five member board who should be paid a reasonable salary to focus solely on transportation. (This is similar to the model used by the Regional Planning Commission.) Unfortunately the cities like to sit on the board too.

  • LAofAnaheim

    “One thing that came up repeatedly in public comment was the renaming of the Gold Line in Boyle Heights to La Linea de Oro. Despite a Metro press release stating that the renaming had huge public support, a handful of community leaders showed up to wonder who exactly this public was. They opposed the renaming and pointed out that none of their community groups nor the Neighborhood Council had been asked their opinion. Maybe LADOT did their public outreach for them.”

    – why didn’t they just turn their heads to Gloria Molina and ask her specifically where she heard the “outcry” for Linea de Oro. I’m glad people are critizing this tactic. I don’t even hear the spanish translation on the Red/Purple/Blue line say “La linea de Rojo”. Absolutely stupid.

  • “Maybe LADOT did their public outreach for them.”

    Best.Close.Ever!

  • Erik

    Denver’s elected RTD board is certainly a model to be emulated, especially after LA Metro rail crosses a county line:

    http://www.rtd-denver.com/BoardDirectors.shtml

  • Jerry

    Metro can’t even run a meeting, how can we expect them to run a contract?

    the real problem here seems to be METRO more than Breda. they’ve never been good at overseeing contracts and this is no exception. if mta keeps changing requirements, even after delivery, obviously things are going to take more time to finish.

    And then, instead of accepting their own mistakes, Metro trries to blame it all on Breda and launch itself into a long procurement process that gives us more expensive cars that take even longer to build? Metro should take the option and spend that extra money on hiring competent people to administer the contract, instead of wasting it on a new bid process.

  • Erik, some of us have been promoting the idea of an elected board for years, but as I noted above the legislature has shown no interest in messing with the composition of the Metro Board.

    We also need to understand an elected Board is no magic bullet. It means we would have insider interests trying to elect their person, etc. Likely would have many folks run for a Metro seat seeking a place to land after being term limited from the legislature/city council/what have you. The most knowledgable member of the BART board lost his re-election some years ago. It is no guarantee we would end up with anything better than we have now. But it would provide clear lines of accountability. Maybe also Board meetings would at least be held twice a month (the way OCTA and MTD do). Trying to do everything at one meeting by a group of people who want the power but find the actual topic of transportation of scant interest creates the chaotic atmopshere described by Damien Newton. Which is why I some years ago stopped attending.

    Don’t confuse the agency and its governance board–the latter was a political solution to power sharing demands that the legislature had to deal with in forming Metro. Political sausage making as it most blunt and bloody. The supervisors, city reps, etc. are mostly there to protect various interests, and have little actual knowledge or desire to learn about transportation except to serve their careers, the dictates of thwe COGS and munis, etc.

    And who is Metro’s advocate on its own Board? In my view–no one….

  • Great write-up! I would love to see a video of this meeting. Especially Villaraigosa asking the public to NOT comment and waste the boards and his precious time.

    He doesn’t care about the voice of his people, his voters, his constituents. I think that video should be up all over the net. If anybody has a video, please post it here!

  • This was definitely a Board meeting worth tuning into. The call in number is 213.922.6045.

  • Erik

    Dana- What I like about the Denver RTD board is that the individuals are not wearing any other “hats” and can devote their time to the Transit Agency. IIRC, the General Manager of the RTD also has a seat/vote on the RTD board

    Nate or anyone else-Is there a video or a transcript of the meeting? I think it must be available somewhere to comply with the Brown act, no?

    Would love to pass it along…

  • For the ones asking about the video, a staff from the Foothill Extension has the session on video. Even though I work with them, I’m not sure when I can get my hands on it. I’ll definitely try to get some portions up on youtube if I do get the footage.

  • Erik

    Google Translated from Danish:

    IC4 supplier spreading chaos on railways throughout the world

    The Italian togproducent Ansadobreda designed to deliver 83 IC4 trains in October 2012,
    is notorious for error-filled trains to be delivered several years late.

    By Birgitte Marfelt, Wednesday 27 May 2009

    Ansaldo Breda appreciate not only Danish train passangers patience to the test by providing delayed IC4 trains of poor quality. The Italian togproducent, according to the British train publication Rail Magazine notorious for late deliveries.

    According to the British magazine bust lurking just around the corner for Ansaldo Breda .. It is not only a challenge to the DSB, which should have supplied 83 IC4 trains and 23 IC2 trains from Italy in October 2012, but also for the high-speed project, which the Dutch Railways is undertaking.

    The company has major difficulties with the supply of Holland’s high-speed Albatros/V250. Ansaldo Breda had delivered trains for high speed line to Amsterdam in 2006, but the Dutch trains are delayed because of problems with Ansaldobredas supplying Denmark.

    Italian trams to both Oslo and Gothenburg has been delayed for years, and transportation authorities in several U.S. cities have nervous tics at the thought of Ansaldo Breda:

    In Los Angeles is Ansaldo Breda long after schedule. Here are the Italians more than three years late in delivery of the city’s light rail.

    And walk a couple of years back in time to report, several U.S. newspapers, including Washington Post and Boston Globe that Ansaldabredas train in Washington, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco is filled with errors and breaks more frequently together than other trains.

    It is not the first time that Ansaldo Breda has major economic problems. Three years ago it had to be partially state-owned parent company, Finmeccanica, adding 1.5 billion dollars in fresh capital to avoid a shutdown.

    http://ing.dk/artikel/99019-ic4-leverandoer-spreder-kaos-paa-jernbaner-i-hele-verden

  • Albert,

    If you can get a DVD of it mailed to the Bike Oven i would be happy to digitize it, break it up into sections, and post the whole thing online free of charge.

    Mail it to:
    Bike Oven
    c/o Vladimir
    3706 N. Figueroa St.
    Los Angeles, CA 90065

  • Can I suggest that in reporting an event like this, it would help to get your disapproval out of the way early, so that you can explain the content of the action in a way that will sound more reliable? When you lace your sarcasm through the entire piece, you just reduce your own credibility as an information source, and eventually bore the reader.

  • anonymous

    Since they “punted” on all the big decisions, I think his point was that the Board’s attitude towards the public was the story.

  • Larry H

    So, the Breda cars are too heavy? Speaking with Board member attendee, a suggestion was made to “remove or redo” certain parts of the cars to reduce the weight. Pray tell, what? But before that question gets answered, is Breda then responsible for the wear and tear on tracks and bridges, now impacted by the heavier weight, causing those items to wear out sooner? Secondly comes the increased demand for electricity, a byproduct of heavier cars. Breda should be responsible for a reduction in unit cost based on protracted energy useage and wear and tear to the rail infrasctructure. They also be made to remit to MTA the cost of replacing trackage worn out before it’s actual life expiration.

    So far, I’ve never seen that issue raised.

    L