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.