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.