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What Was the Point of Yesterday’s Half Hour Filibuster from Gloria Molina?

10_23_09_eastside_grondbreaking.jpgBetter days: Molina, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Villaraigosa, Former Metro CEO Roger Snoble, and Board Member Pam O'Connor at the Eastside Extension Groundbreaking.  Photo: Metro Library

(Editor's note: Originally, this was going to be a post written by Dana Gabbard about Metro placing their public Gold Line Eastside Extension documents online.  As I was writing the introduction, the story got away from me.  A deep hat tip to Dana for his help with this article and you can see the Metro presentation on the extension at the Transit Coalition Website.)

As was noted in Streetsblog's coverage of the Metro Board Meeting, and more with its own article at The Source, yesterday County Supervisor Gloria Molina held the floor for roughly a half hour, delivering a powerful rant against Metro staff concerning the soon-to-be-opened Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension.  Molina accused staff of pushing for the opening of an unsafe line for political reasons, and only doing work for certain favored members of the Board.  Meanwhile her fellow Board members, and L.A. County voters, received a lesser tongue lashing for intentionally short-changing the Eastside.

While I admit that I find Molina's monthly displays of self-pitying on behalf of the San Gabriel Valley, where admittedly I don't live so I'm hardly an expert on the area, to be an exercise in self-promotion; this time she came armed with reports and concerned locals to raise the question:  Is the Gold Line Eastside ready to be opened as a safe line?  The evidence seems to say that it is not.

Yesterday's rant was hardly the first time people have raised questions about the Extension.  Safety concerns have been raised by residents from Little Tokyo through the Eastside and into L.A. County.  This summer, Metro began to go into communities to explain why and how the Eastside Extension would be safe.  A good example of their public presentations can be found at Little Tokyo Unblogged

Many in the group were equally dismayed at the lack of barriers orgates to prevent an accident. MTA staff assured us, however, that gatesare being evaluated, and that a study on the issue will be released inJuly or August...and there will be an opportunity for public comments.

Theother questions that came up time and again were the lack oflanguage-appropriate signage (some of the signs that were up did haveSpanish translations). Many in the group expressed concerns over howlocal Japanese and Korean residents, most especially seniors, would beable to read the warnings. The MTA is also going to take into accountthe timing of pedestrian lights to enable seniors sufficient time tocross sidewalks.

The safety issued remained a simmering local issue as rumored opening dates came and went, but the arguments became more heated after Dakota Smith, the editor of the pro-development blog Curbed, which referred to the above quote from Little Tokyo Unblogged as "fear mongering," almost got hit by a train that was testing the tracks while she touring the future Eastside train stations.  Dakota seemed even more annoyed by the somewhat bemused attitude of Metro staff even as they tried to explain how the incident was her fault and the crossings are completely safe.

While Curbed was annoyed, local concerns were still being raised causing Metro to bring in a group of rail safety experts from San Diego, San Francisco and Arlington, V.A., to review the preparations being made for the opening, currently rumored to be November 15.  Their somewhat confusing findings could be summarized as: this line is safe, but here's what needs to be done to make it safer.  For example, the safety experts noted that ""no trespassing" signs were placed in appropriate places but advised that the wording on the signs be larger.  Yesterday, Molina admitted that she had no idea the status of these proposed changes, which undercuts her overall message that the staff isn't addressing safety concerns; especially since staff claims that they're working on it and the Board passed $4.5 million in funds to complete the improved safety standards earlier in the meeting.  The major fix will be miles of fencing separating the tracks from the community.  How they were planning on opening that line without fencing is beyond me.

Molina ended her rant by making the somewhat bi-polar claim that she would be at the opening of the line, whenever that will be, to share that moment with her community and assure them the line is safe.  However, she isn't sure the line is safe and called the line "sub-standard" several times.  If Molina had kept her comments focused her comments on just the Gold Line and the safety issues, and stayed away from re-airing her grievances for perceived slights going back over a decade; she could have pushed her message without the monthly beating of a dead horse and perhaps scored more points with Board Members, and advocates beyond her San Gabriel Valley Base.

In truth, Molina is still angry that back in the 1990's voters approved a transit funding plan which excluded an Eastside Subway, yet the same pols fought against an Eastside Subway are enthusiastically supporting the Westside Subway.  Her attacks on the Gold Line and staff are a fill in for calling out Zev Yaroslavsky or ranting against voters across the county for not following her sage advice to vote against transit funding plans, such as Measure R.  While transit advocacy groups and blog writers can decry her obstructionism tactics, the reality is; they have been somewhat effective. 

While she has been unable to move voters outside her base to vote against transit taxes, she was successful in getting what are now called "FAST Lanes" and the hundreds of millions of dollars of transit improvements off the I-210 in her district and on the I-110.  Hooray?  The problem is, that in cases such as this, her sense of victim hood, combined with other substance-free grandstanding from the state and congressional delegations, and outrage actually cost her constituents hundreds of millions of dollars in transit improvements for a "congestion pricing" plan that won't actually change traffic patterns at rush hour and actually increase capacity at other times of the day.  Is that really the sort of advocacy that the San Gabriel Valley needs on the Metro Board?

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