With city hall news full of minor malfeasance, it is surprising to report that something positive is actually happening. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 transit plan is moving toward Congressional approval even though progress is about as slow as a Wilshire bus during rush hour.
Under the plan, the federal government would loan the Metropolitan Transportation Authority funds to begin construction of the 12 transit projects scheduled to be built with proceeds from the half cent sales tax increase approved by the voters as Measure R in 2008. The loans would be repaid by the sales tax revenues.
This procedure would allow the projects to be built in a decade rather than the 30 years envisioned when the voters approved Measure R. Among the projects are completion of the Wilshire subway, the so-called “Subway to the Sea;” an extension of the Gold Line light rail to Claremont; an extension of the San Fernando Valley’s Orange Line rapid bus way and a number of freeway interchange improvements, more carpool lanes and highway widenings.
Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten, one of the few journalists paying attention to plan, wrote it “is the most important initiative proposed” by Villaraigosa and “if, as seems increasingly likely, it’s embraced by Congress, it will become one of the nation’s most significant public infrastructure policy.”
Having covered transportation when I was at the Times, I can tell you the subject is a hard sell with editors. The beat is not a ticket to page one. Editors like something simple and snappy, like the mayor’s free tickets to big events or which of two houses is the real residence of City Councilman Richard Alarcon, the one in the district and the other that’s not.
I’ve already commented about the tickets: Mayor, take those tickets, show up at the Oscars, concerts and sports events, big and small. You’re the city’s political and government leader, CEO and chief cheerleader!
In the Alarcon case, I’ll withhold comment since Alarcon’s chief of staff is my friend Saeed Ali, and he’s been subpoenaed by the grand jury, which, along with the district attorney, is looking into the situation.
But there are some much more important issues being resolved or neglected in City Hall, and they deserve more attention.
One of these is traffic congestion. Approval of the 30/10 plan will be a step toward easing it. Recently, I talked to Richard Katz, a member of the MTA and Metrolink boards, .who is working with the mayor to get the plan approved.
Katz, just back from a trip to Washington, is very enthusiastic about all this. “It’s on a par with Mulholland bringing water to L.A,” he said. I said that water deal was pretty big. Are you sure this thing is that huge? “I am too close to it,” he said.
Still, as he described what’s happening, it’s a damn good story. Villaraigosa, helped by Democratic Reps. Jane Harman and Lucille Roybal-Allard, are trying to convince the old guys in the House that this revolutionary approach won’t hurt their pork barrel approach to transit appropriations. Sen. Barbara Boxer is doing the same in the Senate. The Obama administration is on their side. In L.A., the labor unions and the construction and engineering lobbyists are using their clout, as well.
Jobs will be created, too—160,000 construction jobs in the next decade. This will help pull L.A. out of the recession.
And finally, this is something Sen. Boxer needs. Her Republican opponent Carly Fiorina has been blasting her as some sort of leftist. She faces a rough race and will need to show she’s a practical, dollars-and-cents senator. This project would help her.
Put it all together—heavy on the drama and politics--and it’s not a bad story. Maybe not as hot as mayor’s free tickets but much more important.