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Ali Saleh

Whittier City Councilmember Fernando Dutra Elected To Metro Board

Whittier City Councilmember Fernando Dutra – via Dutra website

This morning, the leadership of cities in Southeast Los Angeles - known as the Gateway Cities sub-region - elected Fernando Dutra to the Metro board of directors. Since 2012, Dutra has served on the Whittier City Council, having been most recently re-elected in 2018.

According to Dutra's website, he is President of Allwest Development Company and holds licenses for general engineering and building contracting. He states that he "learned English at the age of 11" when his family immigrated from Portugal to the United States. Dutra's review of his own record shows that he has prioritized fiscal responsibility, fighting crime (his website prominently touts his endorsement from the Whittier Police Officers Association), community input, capital improvements, and smart economic growth.

The 13-member Metro board includes five county supervisors, the Los Angeles Mayor and three L.A. mayoral appointments, and four regional representatives. The four regional representatives are officially put in place by an obscure body titled the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee, which administers the appointment of city representatives to various boards, including: Metro, Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and others.

The four regional representatives on the Metro board represent these county regions:

To select a new Metro boardmember, representatives - generally mayors - from a sub-region meet and vote. Voting is weighted by population with cities receiving one vote for every 10,000 residents, though with a minimum of one vote.

Weighted voting for the xxx
Weighted voting for the Southeast Long Beach region of L.A. County
Weighted voting for the xxx

This morning, the Southeast Long Beach city representatives met and two candidates were nominated to the Metro board post: Dutra and Ali Saleh, Mayor of the City of Bell. The weighted votes tallied 87 for Dutra and 74 for Saleh. The largest city in the sub-region, Long Beach, voted for Dutra. Saleh received the votes of three of the next largest cities: Downey, Norwalk, and South Gate (though combined, these still have less than three-quarters of the population of Long Beach.)

After winning the Metro seat selection, Dutra praised Saleh, then stated that there is "no small city vs. big city" split, but he stressed that the Gateway sub-region would "go at this as a big team."

Dutra still needs to be formally appointed by the L.A. County City Selection Committee, but that step is an administrative formality. Dutra's term will be through January 1, 2025.

From Dutra's website, he "served as a Member of the Planning Commission for six years from 2006 to 2012 and has served as Chairman of the Commission. Prior to his term on the Planning Commission, he served for six years on the Design Review Board. He has chaired the Metro Light Rail Extension Project Washington Boulevard Coalition; sits on the Whittier YMCA Board of Directors; and has served on the St. Gregory Parish Board." Further, from Dutra:

I believe strongly in "Home Rule," the philosophy that the local unit of government closest to the people is (and should be) the most responsive.  I believe the city should, to the extent that its financial resources allow, give the highest priority to public safety, education and the improvement and maintenance of public facilities - including streets, sidewalks, sewers, parks, landscaping and, of course, filling potholes.

I believe in protecting and enhancing the environment, providing human development opportunities and providing opportunities for businesses to prosper while creating quality jobs that generate revenues and much-needed services to Whittier residents. I believe in equitable treatment for our local businesses while ensuring protections for our citizens from possible negative impacts.

Whittier Mayor Pro Tem Henry Bouchot told Streetsblog that he is really excited about Dutra's election to Metro, stating that Dutra goes beyond just Whittier's interests and acts "in the best interests of the region." Bouchot spoke of how Dutra has long advocated for the Metro's Eastside Gold Line extension to extend to Whittier, even when it appeared that Metro might have been favoring the 60 Freeway alignment for that project. Bouchot emphasized that Dutra is "a builder" and expects that Dutra can bring his expertise to bear as Metro builds transit-oriented housing and retail.

Whittier School Board member and California Walks Co-Executive Director Caro Jauregui responded to Dutra's election "California Walks welcomes all new Metro Board Members. We are looking forward to ensuring first/last mile projects are prioritized to continue creating safe, healthy, walkable, and bikeable communities across L.A. County."

Clearly, it is too soon to know how Dutra's tenure at Metro will play out. Broadly, though, his election may well represent the Gateway Cities representative returning to a more suburban orientation. Dutra replaces Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who represented a large city (with a population of ~462,000 Long Beach is the 7th largest city in California and the 43rd largest in the U.S.) Long Beach is served by Metro rail, and is among the county's leaders in transit, bike, and pedestrian mobility. On the Metro board, Garcia was preceded by Diane DuBois, the Mayor of Lakewood (population ~80,000), who generally prioritized freeways over transit.

Whittier has a population of ~86,000. The relatively-suburban city is the planned terminus of Metro's Eastside Gold Line extension, currently anticipated to begin construction in 2023.

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice Co-Executive Director Taylor Thomas responded to Dutra's election stating that "Regardless of the outcome of this vote, the history of this Board shows us how out of touch with marginalized communities they are - from expanding freeways, reducing public transit service, and increasing policing. Until there is an overhaul of who is able to actually sit on the Board and give voice to our communities, a shuffling of these elected officials will not radically improve the conditions we live in."

Dutra posts frequently on Facebook - less often to Instagram and Twitter.

See also Streetsblog L.A. coverage of the other new Metro rep elected today: Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval.

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