February 2023 Metro Board Meeting Recap: Security, Homelessness, Valley Rail, and More
5:25 PM PST on February 24, 2023
Yesterday's Metro board meeting was focused mostly on discussions, reports, and motions looking to address issues related to transit system security and homelessness. There were also board action on proceeding with San Fernando Valley light rail, ridership information, and more.
Transit System Security
Though the board took no actions on transit security this month, there was an extended discussion focused on some negative trends highlighted in the monthly report [presentation] from the Chief Safety Officer Gina Osborn.
Deaths on the Metro transit system have increased significantly in the past two calendar years. Drug-related deaths - mainly fentanyl overdoses, according to Osborn - are at heart of the trend. At yesterday's meeting, Osborn verbally reported that 2023 is off to a much worse start; in under two months, Metro system deaths already total 23 - the same as all of last year.
Osborn's presentation also noted that transit system serious ("Part 1") crimes increased by 24 percent from calendar year 2021 to 2022. Less serious "Part 2" crimes increased by 14 percent during the same period.
Though Osborn acknowledged that Metro can't arrest its way out of these problems, she did call for more "access control," essentially policing to keep non-paying riders off the system. “Not all fare evaders are criminals, but all criminals are fare evaders,” she asserted.
Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins noted that the fentanyl crisis is impacting transit systems across the country, and southern California communities beyond just transit systems. Mayor Karen Bass called for Metro representatives - ambassadors, security and law enforcement - to carry Narcan.
Several directors noted the need for better data Metro security/crime data, which is typically reported on a month-to-month percentage basis and ends up being too noisy to find trends. For example, Osborn's report graphed Part 1 crimes by Metro rail line, which mainly showed that higher ridership lines (B/D [Red/Purple] Line, A [Blue] Line) have more crimes reported than lower ridership lines (C [Green] Line, L [Gold] Line). Osborn pointed to the K [Crenshaw] Line as a success, as it had only one Part 1 crime reported in 2022, without adding the context that it only opened in October 2022 and has drawn relatively low ridership.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn pushed for Metro's contracted law enforcement - LAPD, the L.A. Sheriff's Department, and Long Beach PD - to spend more time riding transit. Often, law enforcement assigned to transit will spend a great deal of time in patrol cars and in stations, infrequently getting on trains and buses. Supervisor Holly Mitchell advocated for stepped-up transit ambassadors (praised by numerous boardmembers) and cautioned against disproportionate policing of communities of color.
Transit security issues will come to a head this year as Metro looks to approve a new transit policing contract. The reimagined layered safety approach is anticipated to include fewer armed officers and more transit ambassadors, mental health workers, station attendants, etc. CEO Wiggins will report the outlines of the transit security approach next month, with new contract/budget approval prior to the July start of the new fiscal year.
One contested site where differing Metro approaches to public safety are playing out is MacArthur Park Station.
Just west of downtown L.A., Metro B/D Line MacArthur Park Station is located in the city's population-dense and immigrant-rich Westlake neighborhood. The station has experienced real (drug use, crime, theft, homelessness) and perceived ("informal/unregulated vending," "loitering") issues, so Metro is undertaking interventions to make riders "feel welcome and safe."
Some of the interventions are sticks, including: more Metro law enforcement presence, more surveillance, pumping in uncomfortably loud classical music (already underway - listen), closing an entrance, fencing off areas, installing baffles to make platform seating uncomfortable, etc.
There are also some carrots: a new kiosk with station attendants, a greater transit ambassador presence, restarting a street vending marketplace pilot (that lapsed in 2020 at the outset of the pandemic), possibly also adding restrooms and restarting plans for transit-oriented affordable housing.
Yesterday, the board approved a motion by Solis that calls for "implementing care-centered strategies to improve community safety and health" at MacArthur Park and nearby stations. The Alliance for Community Transit (ACT-LA), which recently hosted a demonstration and published a report on improving safety by activating stations, supported the Solis motion.
Metro Responses to Homelessness
Yesterday, the board approved two motions regarding Metro's role in helping to solve the region's homelessness crisis:
- A motion, by Mayor Bass, directs Metro to inventory surplus Metro property in order to find sites for temporary and permanent housing - including potentially allowing Safe Parking at underutilized station parking lots. Metro did a somewhat similar inventory in 2020.
- A motion, by Supervisor Hahn, directs Metro to work with agency and community partners to implement a new homeless service hub in Long Beach along the Metro A Line. This is in response to end-of-line issues, where some unhoused individuals are forced to depart Metro trains at the end of the day. See also Long Beach Post coverage.
Other Brief Updates
- Metro CEO Wiggins reported that transit ridership continues to gradually increase, especially after Metro largely restored bus and rail service to pre-pandemic levels last December. Metro ridership is still rebounding from a precipitous drop at the start of the COVID-19 era in early 2020. Annual ridership increased 12 percent from calendar year 2021 to 2022. January 2023 ridership was 13 percent higher than in January 2022 (when an operator shortage was resulting in unreliable service with heavy cancelations).
- The Metro board snubbed Pasadena by approving car-centric Metro highway staff recommendations [staff report] that indefinitely delay about $50 million worth of the city’s multimodal project funding. The action sets a bad precedent for North 710 corridor cities seeking to advance multimodal projects.
- The board approved a major chunk of East San Fernando Valley light rail construction. Late last year, Metro broke ground on an early $9 million utility relocation pre-construction phase of the $3.6 billion project. A month ago, the ESFV rail project received a $600 million state grant. Yesterday, the board approved a larger $497 million pre-construction phase [staff report], which includes property acquisition and engineering/design under a "Progressive Design-Build" model. The board also approved a motion, by boardmember Paul Krekorian, that lays the groundwork for a business interruption fund for ESFV rail construction.
- The board approved a motion, by boardmember Lindsey Horvath, that calls for Metro to work toward increasing its female workforce, especially in construction.
- For the first time in more than a decade, the board only had 12 directors. Mayor Bass, who took office in December, has the authority to appoint three Metro directors, but has thus far only provisionally extended the terms of two of her predecessor's appointees: Jacqueline Dupont-Walker and L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian. Transit advocates are calling on Bass to appoint directors that will center equity for Metro transit riders, namely: L.A. City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, equity advocate Tamika Butler, and former L.A. City Councilmember/Metro boardmember Mike Bonin.