Obscure Transportation Spending Watchdog to Have Meeting Monday
I see that on Monday at 2:30 p.m. the Independent Citizens’ Advisory
and Oversight Committee is holding its annual Public Hearing in the
Metro Board Room to receive public comments on the result of the audits
it oversees of the spending of funds from Propositions A and C by Metro.
I shouldn’t be surprised that most readers of this blog have never
heard of the ICAOC. Admittedly it is a fairly obscure entity. But
sometimes obscure entities (and the landscape of transportation has
them sprinkled in odd corners) suddenly take on prominence. A recent
example is the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee.
I first stumbled across the MSRC some years ago when in the throes of
researching transit-related meetings and events to post on the SO.CA.TA
website calendar. It recently emerged from the shadows as the folks who
ponied up the funds for the Dodger Stadium shuttle so many are now
Getting back to the ICAOC – its origins are tied to colorful local
politico L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Facing an
uncompetitive re-election in 1998 Yaroslavsky decided to shift a
portion of the campaign funds he had amassed to get on the ballot
Proposition A, The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Reform
and Accountability act of 1998.
Its purpose was to prohibit funds from L.A. County’s then-existing 1/2%
sales taxes for transit (Proposition A of 1980 and Proposition C of
1990) from being used for subway construction. It was well timed to
capture the exasperation of the voters with Metro’s many woes in
undertaking construction of the Red Line. At the time it just reached
from downtown to Wilshire/Western and had anemic ridership. It took no
great courage to denounce any further subway extensions beyond the
the segments under construction at the time through East Hollywood,
Hollywood and into North Hollywood. Zev played his role to the hilt as
tribune of the people in championing an end to any further
consideration of subways in the region. I attended an open meeting of
the Santa Monica Democratic Club where Zev made his pitch for the
measure and I have to say he was at his most glib and clever in
undertaking what I am sure at the time he thought a clever way to get
some attention and cache, which I suspected (and continue to believe to
this day) was his main purpose in funding the measure.
It was of course utterly unnecessary. Metro was exhausting all its
resources (institutional and financial) in finishing the subway to its
North Hollywood terminus. Even the most ardent supporters of the
project didn’t anticipate any additional segments to be undertaken for
at least a decade. And that is pretty well how things have played out.
Yet the measure played to the mob and passed overwhelmingly with 68.45% approving it.
Dutifully since 1999 the ICAOC meets annually to pro-forma examine and
approve the audit that (to no surprise) finds that Metro has complied
with the two measures in its expenditures of funds from same.
I actually dragged myself to one of its meetings once, mostly out of
morbid curiosity. Fortuitously the L.A. Times had the day of the
meeting (giving the ICAOC its sole bit of public attention since its
inception) published an article about the audit. The piece included
Supervisor Zaroslavsky denouncing the Committee as a whitewash, since
the audit had found Metro to be in full complaince with all the
requirements of A&C.
Intrigued, I asked in my comments whether the Committee members had
seen Yaroslavsky’s comments. They nodded yes. I ask if the Supervisor
had communicated them to the Committee. They shook their heads no. I
asked if the Supervisor had ever attended any of its meetings. Again,
they said no. Maybe one of his staffers? Also no.
Obviously once it had served the purpose of providing an element of
public accountability to burnish his phony measure and aid its
passage, Yaroslavsky lost interest in the entity he had created and
essentially treated it as a forgotten remnant of times past. I have to
also think Yaroslavsky soon found to his regret being the anti-subway
champion lost its luster as the Red Line’s extension into Hollywood and
the San Fernando Valley (and concomitant resulting ballooning
ridership) started some folks to reconsider the notion that subway
extensions should be never again given consideration. In fact now the
1998 measure never gets attention except in a negative light.
So how did Zaroslavsky since emerge recently as the champion of the
Purple Line extension westward? Well even in the midst of the campaign
for his measure he always left wiggle room in his pronouncements. That
is why some of us have long called him Zig Zag Zev.
By the way, at the meeting I attended after it concluded the Chair came
over to thank me for coming. Evidently generally these hearings get
little or no attendance. Which isn’t surprising considering its rather
obscure long forgotten by most existence.
I’ll conclude by noting the ICAOC came to my mind during the tumultuous
period in which Measure R was being drafted. One of the planks brought
up was the need for an Oversight Committee to address concerns about
whether the funds would be spent wisely. I thought that since the ICAOC
already existed and served that function for Props A&C, why not
just add R to its responsibilities? Instead the movers and shakers
added a provision for an Independent Taxpayers Oversight Committee,
comprised of three retired judges with an advisory panel to be made up
of stakeholders. More than a year after R passed only now are the
selection of the three Committee members being finalized with the
members of the advisory panel allegedly to be in place by mid-Summer.
We’ll see. Meanwhile the ICAOC endures, for whatever that is worth.