Today’s Metro Board meeting lasted over four hours and featured a lot of hot button issues including the Long Range Transportation Plan, the fate of the AnsaldoBreda exclusive contract to build light rail cars and whether or not to pursue federal funds to accelerate the Downtown Rail Connector and Subway to the Sea projects. Naturally, the Board decided to delay all of those decisions until September. There is no scheduled Board Meeting in August, although there is a "workshop" on August 13.
Backtracking from the report leaked to the Times earlier this week recommending ending the exclusive contract with AnsaldoBreda, Metro CEO Art Leahy recommended extending the contract for another sixty days so that Metro could finish negotiations with the rail agency. A lawyer for AnsaldoBreda then rose to promise that the embattled Italian rail car manufacturer would finish its fifty car contract quickly and professionally. That contract is already two years late and the cars that are delivered are overweight.
However, AnsaldoBreda also promised to provide a $300 million letter of credit, that comes in $50 million segments, that Metro would control. Leahy said that all the details with AnsaldoBreda weren’t worked out yet, but could be in two months.
However, federal law restricts the length of a contract that an agency can have with a rail car manufacturer if they’re using federal funds to five years. If Metro amends their contract with AnsaldoBreda for future rail cars, then it would be over five years. Leahy seems to believe that, given time, Metro can maneuver around that provision, but I can’t help but notice that such a maneuver would trample all over the spirit of that law.
While Board Members have expressed concern with AnsaldoBreda in the past, three took particular exception with the rail car company this time. Board Member Antonovich aggressively attacked AnsaldoBreda’s track record on delivering cars to the Metro with a series of loaded questions. For example, one of Antonovich’s questions asked if AnsaldoBreda staff had undergone training to become more professional since their last round of dealings with Metro staff. His entire line of questions could be summed up by, "why should we believe you now when you’ve performed so terribly in the past?"
A furious Board Member Yaroslavsky aggressively attacked AnsaldoBreda’s public relations campaign against its competitors. AnsaldoBreda went on the attack this weekend noting ties between Siemens, another rail car company, and the People’s Islamic Republic of Iran. Yaroslavsky furiously waived news articles and brochures from AnsaldoEnergia noting that AnsaldoBreda’s parent company has offices and does business in Iran to this day. However, Yaroslavsky, "pulled a Zev" by sounding the alarm and raising a fuss but ultimately not voting to end the contract with the rail firm.
Speaking in favor of the AnsaldoBreda contract was Villaraigosa appointee to the Board Richard Katz. Katz, who had been part of the negotiations between staff and AnsaldoBreda, went so far as to say, "I won’t let any stone go unturned," when it comes to providing jobs to the region. Then he quickly followed up that statement by saying he wouldn’t vote based on the jobs issue. AnsaldoBreda has promised to build a rail car company in L.A. County if their contract is extended.
While a few transit activists spoke against AnsaldoBreda, the bulk of public testimony was by union officials testifying that we need jobs so the AnsaldoBreda contract has to be extended.
Even with three people stating strong opposition, the vote to extend the contract was 8-1-2, with Antonovich voting against and Pam O’Connor joining Yaroslavsky in abstaining.
I’d like to point out again that in March, the Board decided that it would take too long to put out the contract for all the new light rail cars that will be needed for Measure R projects because it would "take six months." If the Board approves extending the AnsaldoBreda contract in September, which is far from certain, it would be over six months since the punting began.
The most surprising news of the day came during the CEO’s report. Leahy reported that he is temporarily halting the installation of turnstiles, leaving us unprotected from terrorists, until 2011. Leahy has directed staff to research how the turnstiles will effect mobility within the stations and how TAP implementation issues effect turnstile rollout. The staff report is due in December. Despite their near unanimous support, in the face of near unanimous opposition from the public for the turnstiles in the Spring of 2008, no Board Member had any questions or objections for Leahy’s delay.
The other issue of contention that the Board delayed a vote on had to deal with project delivery of the "Measure R Projects." As we’ve seen before, the Board again voted to delay the vote on the Long Range Transportation Plan. This time the delay was because there are still questions about the timeline on the highway projects funded by Measure R, until September. With all of the debate over Westside projects versus Gold Line extensions, versus bus expansion, it’s easy to forget that there are parts of the county that only looked at Measure R as a way to fund some local highway expansion projects. Eighty municipalities and Council of Governments wrote to the Board or testified that the LRTP shouldn’t be passed until the highway timeline is finalized.
While the rail timelines are pretty much set by the language of Measure R, many of the highway projects have more vague wording because the environmental studies haven’t been completed yet, as they have for the rail projects.
Testifying in favor of the LRTP were supporters of Westside projects, and the I Will Ride Coaltion. Bicycle and pedestrian activists asked the Board to increase the allocation for non-motorized transportation from $324 million to $368 million to meet the "strategic" numbers outlined in the 2008 draft of the LRTP. The Bus Rider’s Union also testified for better bus operations and expansion funding and their Clean Air and Economic Justice Plan.
When it was the Board’s turn to debate, they didn’t debate whether or not to delay the plan but how best to delay the plan. Eventually, they decided to punt until September’s Board Meeting.
The last of the major issues up for debate was whether or not to officially go after federal dollars to accelerate the timelines for the Subway to the Sea and Downtown Regional Connector. Scores of activists from Little Tokyo testified on the impact the light rail would have on their community and a nearly equal number of westsiders spoke in favor of the plan. Eventually, the Board decided to, say it with me, punt on the issue until September.
I wonder if the Board realizes that in addition to repeating all of the testimony and fighting from the major issues from this week’s meeting, they also voted to have a public hearing on Silver Line fares at the September meeting.
And in a frustrating piece of news, despite earning the support of the majority of the Board Members present to oppose state legislation that would expand hybrid access to HOV and Express Lanes, a 6-4 vote is only a moral victory, as you need seven total votes to pass anything at the Board. Instead they unanimously decided to "work with the author" on the legislation, presumably to make sure whatever legislation passes doesn’t mess up their Express Lanes plan.