Waiting for a train at Metro Center Station in downtown Los Angeles—the platform full of Blue Line and Expo Line riders--I wondered at the Los Angeles 2020 Commission’s cool dismissal of a mass transit system that is growing into a real asset .
Lack of enthusiasm dripped from the report of the commission, headed by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, who were appointed by City Council President Herb Wesson: “Even if all the ambitious and expensive mass transit projects underway are successfully completed, they will simply keep things from getting any worse. In the meantime, the economic and human costs of unchecked congestion compound on a daily basis.” I looked around at my many fellow riders. Without the Blue Line to Long Beach and the Expo Line to the Westside, they would be driving or riding buses on circuitous routes, causing more of the congestion that the commission decries.
Living in the heart of congestion country, near Olympic Boulevard and Veteran Avenue—Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran is the city’s busiest intersection--I think I know a major reason for the congestion---job growth, which the commission says isn’t happening. High tech and the entertainment business have created a job-producing corridor along Olympic. Same thing is happening along Culver Boulevard and in the Playa del Rey area. Job-heavy UCLA and the airport also bring in residents and traffic. With jobs come population growth. This pokes a hole in the commission’s contention that L.A. is a job-killing city.
I jumped on this small part of the report because I’m a big transit booster and know something about the subject, having written about public buses and trains for many years. I was disappointed that the commission took such a superficial and wrong-headed look at so important a subject.
The most important part of the commission report concerned city employee pensions. The commission said city employment has dropped 12 percent since 2004, yet spending on pensions is up 250 percent and health care spending is up almost 80 percent. The implication is that L.A. is on the way to becoming another Detroit.
Interestingly, the commission embraced the analysis of blogger Jack Humphreville, a fiscally conservative Neighborhood Council budget activist. Humphreville, who writes the LA Watchdog blog for Citywatch LA, has long maintained that the city is not putting aside enough money to fund these benefits. He supports a proposed state ballot measure that would give local governments more power to take away benefits. Unions oppose it
In the next 90 days, the commission will make recommendations after meetings and hearings—in public, I hope—to decide what to do about the employee benefits—reduce them, maintain them or gradually revise them through collective bargaining. Will commissioners follow the blood-sweat-and-tears path recommended by pension cutters? And what will Mayor Eric Garcetti do about it?