Full Disclosure on the Relationship Between L.A. Streetsblog and Metro

A lot is being made of the relationship between Streetsblog and Metro (aka Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority or MTA) after our post dismantling a Beverly Hills Courier “report” published yesterday.  The Beverly Hills Courier referred to L.A. Streetsblog as a “captive blog” of Metro and is now suggesting that everything we say is direct from the mouth of the MTA.  It’s a level of confusion on the Courier’s part that you might expect from commenters at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website.

It seems an odd charge to level, that either Streetsblog or Damien Newton, our editor and writer of the story in question, are in the tank for Metro.  Streetsblog often publishes stories critical of Metro, including one earlier in the day yesterday criticizing Metro’s fare gate policy.  Streetsblog also often refers to the Metro Board of Directors as “dysfunctional,” mocks Metro highway projects such as the I-710 Big Dig, and awarded Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union the Streetsie award for 2011’s “Transit Advocate of the Year.”

In addition to writing most of the aforementioned articles, Newton has filed complaints with the District Attorney’s Office alleging Metro has violated the Brown Act and has openly pondered suing over a twice-rejected Freedom of Information Act Request.  In the week preceding the opening of the Expo Line Phase One, Newton conducted an interview with Damien Goodmon — a chief critic of the line’s design — as part of a collaborative project with Intersections South L.A.

Because we believe in full transparency, we’ve put together a disclosure list concerning the relationships that exist between Streetsblog and Metro so people can make up their own minds.

Financial Links

As an agency, Metro does not contribute anything to Streetsblog’s budget.  A few of Metro’s contractors have purchased ads on Streetsblog in support of their public outreach efforts — i.e. to notify L.A. County residents of upcoming community meetings, workshops, etc.  In total, these ads will account for less than 2% of Los Angeles Streetsblog’s revenue for the 2012 Fiscal Year that ends June 30.  In the three years previous, ads from Metro contractors accounted for 0% of the budget.

As for donations, no Metro staff member has contributed to Streetsblog at an event or through the website to the best of our knowledge.  Some Metro contractors have staff members who have attended Streetsblog fundraisers.  Donations from these employees comes to less than 1% of the Los Angeles Streetsblog budget.

Board Member/Staff Connections

Publishing Los Angeles Streetsblog is a collaboration between two non-profits: the California-based Southern California Streets Initiative and the New York based OpenPlans.  There are no connections between OpenPlans and Metro.

The Southern California Streets Initiative has nine members of its Board of Directors: Joe Linton (president), Deborah Murphy (vice-president), Carter Rubin (treasurer), Damien Newton (ex-oficio as executive director), Joel Epstein, Juan Matute, Sirinya Matute, Jocelyn Ramirez, and James Rojas.

Of these nine, two, Carter Rubin and Joel Epstein, currently work as contractors for Metro as contributors to its official blog, The Source.  Neither supplied any input whatsoever on either the story in question or any of our any stories involving Metro.  Long before joining The Source, Epstein used his Huffington Post column to advocate for the Subway route underneath Beverly Hills High School with a station at Constellation Blvd. and Avenue of the Stars.

James Rojas was a long-time employee of Metro until 2010.  Most of Rojas’ work for Streetsblog revolves around his “interactive modeling” projects.  When he does write about Metro, the articles have been about the I-710 Big Dig and have been critical.

L.A. Streetsblog has no full-time employees, but three regular writers.  Neither Newton, Kris Fortin or Sahra Sulaiman have any financial connections to Metro.  Of our volunteer and freelance contributors (meaning they’ve written at least three stories for Streetsblog in this calendar year), Dana Gabbard, Lindsey Miller, Carlos Morales, and Mark Vallianatos have no financial connections to Metro, although Vallianatos has written grant requests for and with Metro as part of his job as a professor at Occidental College.  That hasn’t stopped him from writing several harsh opinion pieces on the 710 Big Dig.

Editorial Position on the Westside Subway

Los Angeles Streetsblog does not have an editorial position supporting one route over the other on the Westside Subway.  None of our staff or board of directors are either geological or seismic experts, so we could not give an educated opinion on which route is the safest one.

That being said, we believe the over-heated rhetoric and mis-information we’ve seen out of some factions in Beverly Hills is counter-productive and dangerous to the public decision-making process.   This isn’t the first time Newton has corrected Beverly Hills Courier stories. (Read: here and here.)

It seems more than likely that the final route for the Subway will be decided by a court.  If the courts tell Metro they have to dig along Santa Monica Boulevard, then the project will likely die as Metro Staff have said over and over they believe that route is infeasible due to the fact that the station and tunnel would sit on top of an earthquake fault.

If the court gives Metro the green light, how will Beverly Hills react?  After years of telling anyone would listen that a corrupt agency is going to kill the children at their only high school, where do you go from there?  There is no easy answer to those last two questions. And that’s one reason we find the public relations campaign being waged by many of the loudest voices in Beverly Hills to be so dangerous to everyone’s long-term good.

  • Anonymous

    Yea, it’s such a joke. When I read the piece by Beverly Hills Courier that went off about this and that, then realizing the foundation of their argument against you was based on an incorrect assumption, the entire article and maybe their website become suspect to me. So basically they failed to do basic research to figure out that Metro and StreetsBlog are totally separate entities. And with this basic lack of research, we’re supposed to believe anything else they say? This now basically discredits many, if not most, of their claims. This might be one of those situations where just letting them keep talking will win you the argument.

  • Anonymous

    More proof that the Beverly Hills Courier is absolutely bonkers.

  • Simon

    I’m told that the Beverly Hills Courier is published by a Tea Party enthusiast who hates any and all government spending.

  • Thank goodness we have all those bags of unmarked cash from Metro in the back shed! No more pay-what-you-can fundraisers for us! (from Joe Linton)

  • Juan Matute

    So Open. So Awesome.

  • Juan Matute

    Be critical of all claims, especially of those made by the media.  Be less critical of claims made by investigative, transparent media like Streetsblog after you’ve become familiar with the source.

  • Anonymous

    Can I get a ride in your Metro SUV with the exempt plates, Damien?

  • John Mirisch

    Damien, your article above tries to make it seem like Joel Epstein’s literary pursuits in favor of Constellation before he was actually hired by Metro should be seen as something of a virtue.  In reality, all those “We love you Metro” pieces seem to have been more of an audition for the paying gig that Epstein actually ended up getting.  That would hardly seem to increase the objective bona fides of your Board.

    Nonetheless, it isn’t Epstein’s objectivity I would be concerned about, it’s yours.  And, no, I’m not suggesting you’re in anybody’s pocket.  But, in case you’ve missed it, a lot of rhetoric, much of it based on stereotypes, has emanated from the pro-Constellation Metro loyalists.  How is much of the rhetoric — and other tactics — from this faction not “counter-productive and dangerous to the public decision-making process”?

    If you’re truly willing to be open and critical of Metro, as you suggest, then you won’t put the possibility of politicized decision-making beyond them.  In fact, we just recently saw an instance of a well-heeled and politically powerful developer getting Metro to move a portal by an entire block, though it was pretty much unheralded, especially because those who were negatively impacted were too weak to stand up and fight. Of course, I’m referring to the last-minute bait-and-switch whereby Metro moved the Fairfax station portal from Wilshire and Fairfax itself, the logical and sensible choice, to Orange Grove.  What is possible in the Miracle Mile is certainly also possible further down the line, and it is your seeming inability to take this on board which can lead one to question your objectivity.

    It’s all too simple to try to phrase this in terms of “killing children,” because it is an easier position to dismiss out of hand.  And yet, ironically, while you and others dismiss these doomsday scenarios as the imaginings of Hillbillies, you’re willing to accept a Hestonesque, Sensurround explanation as to why another viable alternative should simply be ruled out — ignoring all along, how convenient this pre-ordained result neatly fits into the political landscape of the Metro Kremlinologists. 

    Truly, Damien, you lose the aura of objectivity when you chide the PR campaign from some quarters in BH, but ignore the JMB-funded Astroturf organization (“We do our part LA”), as well as the other parties with interested motives who chime in, such as the CC Chamber or Westwood Homeowners’ Groups that would seem to be the true NIMBY’s. Many of them actively misstate BH’s position and attempt to suggest that this is all a scheme to keep “those people” out of BH.  Let me tell you something, Damien, if Metro figured out a way to avoid tunneling under the High School, this would all be over, and BH would still have two stops within its borders, construction impacts and all.  And BH supports these stations, though we don’t support Metro’s bait-and-switch tactics.

    Our concerns are absolutely not just about safety — though if Santa Monica Blvd. is really so dangerous, then why does LA continue to entitle 40-story skyscrapers in what Metro’s experts are suggesting would be the dangerous area?  Where is your tender concern for the inhabitants of the numerous skyscrapers in the Dolan/Jones/Alquist/Priolo death zone?  Neither the geology nor geography of CC has changed in the past 5 years.  Why didn’t Metro staff discuss any of this — with one single syllable — with the BH Mass Transit Committee, with whom it interacted for the better part of a year?  Why has Metro continually stonewalled the BHUSD when it comes to information?  As someone who has witnessed much of Metro’s twisting and turning first-hand and with apologies to Gore Vidal, I can state that they have given the adjective “Kafkaesque” a bad name.

    This entire scenario and issue, Damien, most certainly is also a question — and has always been — of process, respect for local control, and true transparency, rather than politicized, special interest decision-making, LA-style.  Your seeming unwillingness to dig deeper seems to place you solidly and metaphorically in Metro’s camp, just as they are unwilling to dig deeper to avoid issues in tunneling under BHUSD (though, it should be noted, if Metro’s motto is “Tunnel, Baby, tunnel!” they missed the best option in Westwood, because they didn’t want to tunnel under a cemetery).  While I appreciate your willingness to disclose financial connections with Metro per the above, objectivity is not always and only simply a question of lack of financial motives.

    So I’d urge you, Damien.  Take a step back.  Look at the bigger picture.  And perhaps try to consider it from a number of perspectives.  I am more than happy to share with you mine in person, not only as a BH resident and representative, but also as someone who not only has regularly used subways and my feet as my primary form of transportation for most of my adult life, but who also is a supporter of both mass transit and good local government.

    Respectfully,
    John Mirisch

  • MetroArt

    Too Bad Streetsblog is still a shill for the BRU.

  • Dennis Hindman

    I want to see one single example of catastrophic explosions taking place in modern history from building a subway or existing subways in which an explosion had a adverse effect on the street surface, or buildings above the subway.

    There are thousands of miles of subways around the world, with 660 miles in New York City, some miles of which have been there for almost 100 years. Earthquake prone Japan has 9 cities that have subways. There are numerous examples of subways from around the world from which to site examples of these dangers taking place. Yet, no examples of this happening have been produced from those arguing against building a subway tunnel under the school in Beverly Hills.
     
    This is going on and on about what catastrophic event could happen, yet those submiting this argument don’t seem to be able to produce one single example of this happening at any subway tunnel construction in modern times or existing subway anywhere in the world.

  • If I was in the BH camp I think by this point I’d be very unhappy at how the issue has been advocated by folks like Mr. Mirisch, whose comments here I think do poorly to aid his cause especially by engaging in what smacks of character assassination toward Damien. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

    I’ve decide to fall back on my simple observation, that also served regarding Expo & Farmdale–it is a public process and the result will be worked out in full public view.

    Disclosure–back in 2000 I sat on a art panel for Metro, and donated the $100 stipend to SO.CA.TA. Also in the late 90s as a Passenger Advisory for about a year I got a free bus pass from Metro.

  • Councilman,

    I didn’t say I don’t have my own opinions about the subway, or that I don’t sometimes let those opinions slip into writing, just that these opinions are my opinions and not paid for by someone else.  Writing and editing a website such as this one that serves as a “news magazine” allows and even encourages the “impact journalism” model.

    I will say, that when I came to this debate a couple of years ago I didn’t come in predisposed towards any particular point of view.  My opinions have been formed by the debate over the years, not by reading the articles on HuffPo and City Watch, but by going to hearings and reading reports (or listening to hearings on the phone.)  I had to stop going to hearings in Beverly Hills when people would start arguments with me when they recognized the Streetsblog logo and that was before I picked any sort of horse in the race.

    That being said, I thought the city did a great job yesterday and the press from the day shows that.

  • calwatch

    Incidentally, I’ve come into this supporting Santa Monica Boulevard. I still think it is the better option for all riders, not just those going to Century City. The MTA’s ridership projections show that, because of the reduced travel time, the ridership on non-Century City stations is higher when Santa Monica is chosen over Constellation. In addition, there are better transfers from Santa Monica Boulevard bus customers and no deviation into Century City necessary for bus riders, thus reducing overall travel time from the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor. As the MTA’s report notes, it is also somewhat cheaper, although the Beverly Hills Courier can’t do math. (Subtract “Constellation A” from “Santa Monica B” and you’ll note that Santa Monica saves $20 million.) Since the MTA nixed a deviation to Beverly Center/Cedars Sinai and a station at Crenshaw to save money and save time for through riders, it doesn’t make much sense for them to spend an extra three minutes in each direction, on every trip, to serve Constellation.

    Unfortunately, the way that Beverly Hills did their argument and their shrill behavior does not really acquit them well. If I were Antonovich I would just consider skipping both of them and stopping at the Beverly Wilshire, at Wilshire and Santa Monica. This is no different from what the 720 does. The consolation prize might be an automated people mover or tram from the Beverly Wilshire to Century City, which probably would serve more people directly than either station at Constellation or Santa Monica.

  • Simon

    @calwatch: There’s no way that SMB would result in a three minute time saving in each direction. Where do you get that? And also, do you know how far a walk is from SMB to the southern stretches of Century City? The blocks are enormous. SMB is also across the street from a GOLF COURSE.

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