Metro Board Wrap: New Members, Delayed Rail Car Decision and 2001 LRTP

3_26_09_union.jpgThere was a strong union presence at today’s meeting, and most weren’t wearing yellow shirts.

When I arrived at this morning’s Metro Board meeting, I was surprised that the line to get in the board room stretched out the door.  Most of those filling the room were members of local construction unions there to pressure the Metro Board to not allow a contract with Ansaldo Breda to expire.  Ansaldo Breda is a company that constructs rail cars, currently has a contract with Metro and has "promised" to open a factory in Los Angeles County if it receives a contract to construct 100 more light rail cars for Metro utilizing Measure R funds. 

The unions were ultimately successful as the Metro Board voted overwhelmingly to support extending their contract with Breda for two months.  It doesn’t mean they gave Breda the construction contract, but that if Breda satisfactorily fulfills its current contract that they would receive the contract for the new cars without putting it out to bid.

After a brief presentation by Metro Board Member Richard Katz, who holds one of the seats appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa and sponsored the resolution, union leaders and members took to the microphone stand to demand that the Metro Board break federal and state law and consider the location of a factory when deciding who should build rail cars.  One speaker went so far as to remind the Board Members that they were all politicians and should make political decisions.  "The Cathedral is down that way for altruism," he concluded to the hoots and hollars of the audience.  Charming.

While Katz will go down in the record as the author of this legislation, it was clearly Villaraigosa’s project.  At one point the Board Chair accidently accepted a friendly ammendment to Katz’s proposal without checking with the "author" and also took it upon himself as Board Chair to interrupt comments by Board Member Antonovich, who spoke against the proposal so that outgoing CEO Roger Snoble could "respond to his concerns."

Of course, there’s a lot more to the debate than whether or not a factory opening would be good for Los Angeles.  Breda is already three years behind schedule in delivering light rail cars under its current contract with Metro, and the cars they have built are 6,000 pounds heavier than they should be.  Back in January, the Metro Board seemed interested in going to bid for the new cars, but seems to have changed its mind after an intense lobbying effort by Breda officials.  For more on the history of Ansaldo Breda and Metro, read this article in last week’s Times.

The oddness of the about face was noted by Board Member and Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O’Conner who noted Breda already had a local job program, hiring lobbyists.  She also wondered what promises Breda had made to its plant employees in Pittsburgh, CA where they already have a construction plant.  O’Conner ultimately abstained.

As he did with Metro’s attempt to keep us safe from terrorists by installing turnstiles at some rail stations, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky poked light rail-sized holes in the proposal then voted for it.  Responding to a comment by Snoble that extending the contract would allow Metro to leverage getting the cars it had already paid for, Yaroslavsky huffed, "I’m not sure who’s leveraging whom here."  Later, after getting a list of everything that the Metro CEO hoped to get out of the contract, including on time delivery of the cars, Yaroslavsky wondered how that would be possible since they are already 3 months late.

In other news, Mayor Villaraigosa finally appointed two new members to the Metro Board to join him and Katz in representing the city.  Surprisingly, the new members were LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson and City Councilman Jose Huizar.  It had been widely speculated that Villaraigosa would appoint Bill Rosendahl to the spot for City Council Members because he has been involved in many transportation issues and is rumored to succeed Wendy Greuel as chair of the City’s transportation committee.  As I noted back when Bernard Parks stepped down from the Board, Huizar is no stranger to transportation issues:

Recently, he was the Council Member who first brought the idea of
piloting late night train service during the holiday season that ran on
completely private funding from November until January.  He is a major
force behind bringing trolley service to Broadway and was one of the few Council Members who aggressively fought Metro’s service cut plans for buses in the Spring of last year.

Oh, and unlike many Board Members, Huizar knows how to ride a bus. He is also an outspoken advocate for bringing a trolley to broadway, a project that thrills East Side and Valley pols that are still trying to get additions to the Gold Line.

While Robinson earns high marks for her organizational and leadership skills, she’s hardly known for her expertise on transportation.  True to form, I’m not sure she made one comment in the over three hour meeting after accepting her new seat.

Metro also debated officially adding the Measure R project list to the Long Range Plan.  I have to admit to getting it wrong yesterday.  I assumed they were adding it to the Draft LRTP from last year that is still languishing waiting for a final vote.  The vote was actually to add it to the 2001 LRTP which Metro is still operating under.  But don’t worry, they sent it back to committee for no apparent reason so it wasn’t added to any LRTP. 

Oh, and the 2008 LRTP?  The Board is planning on voting on it sometime this summer.

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