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Archive for October, 2009

Metro Board Passes LRTP and What It Means for the Foothill Extension

Posted by Albert

Amidst a flurry of editorials, stern lectures from Congressional representatives (as well as State legislators), and staged protests from bus riders in front of Metro headquarters, the Metro Board of Directors came in yesterday with their game faces on and with the intent of passing the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan. After we pointed out during our live-tweet that the Board room computers were running the archaic Windows 98 operating system, just as the Directors were lining up to vote on the LRTP – the computers crashed. That didn’t stop them as the Board went the old-school roll call route and voted unanimously to pass the 30-year Long Range Transportation Plan.

But considering it took until 2 PM to cast the vote (the meeting started around 10 AM), there was a lot that happened before the Board was able to arrive at that point.

Largest Contingency of Foothill Extension Supporters (this year) Show Up

IMG_1698 Not to be outdone by bus supporters (three of them dressed in devil costumes) who filled up three long rows worth of seats, more than 100 supporters – ranging from elected officials to community leaders to residents and students – from the San Gabriel Valley made the trek to Metro headquarters to make one last stand for the Foothill Extension. If you live in a city along the 210 freeway up to Ontario, you were represented.

The San Gabriel Valley delegation of federal, state, and local legislators took to the stand first for public comment on the LRTP. Seeking to carry the momentum from the bipartisan Congressional letter that was made public a few days ago, the federal and state legislators reiterated concerns that Los Angeles County stood to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years if the Board did not expand their federal funding strategy to include the Foothill Extension (Azusa to Montclair), Crenshaw corridor, and Eastside Extension Phase II projects. Representatives of state legislators Anthony Portantino, Carol Liu, and Gloria Romero reminded the Board that the voters who approved Measure R made it clear they wanted projects to move into construction as soon as possible – a criteria that the Foothill Extension was more than qualified for. A letter signed by eight state elected officials was also submitted to the Board in support of a more inclusive funding strategy.

If you read yesterday morning’s Los Angeles Times editorial take on the federal funding drama, you might have been surprised (at least I was) to read the Times’ claim that the federal government rarely funds more than one project at the same time. Not letting this tidbit get by them, a bipartisan Congressional delegation of representatives on behalf of David Dreier, Adam Schiff, Judy Chu, Grace Napolitano, Joe Baca, and others responded during public comment that, despite the editorial’s claims, it was not uncommon to have several projects funded by the federal New Starts program at the same time. If you go back to the infamous signed letter from a few days ago, it actually lists examples of this happening.IMG_1686

The local delegation (pictured right) was led by Glendora City Councilman Doug Tessitor, Duarte City Councilwoman Lois Gaston, Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz, and Monrovia City Councilman Joe Garcia. The most interesting comments from the local delegation came from the Monrovia representatives, who – like we previously reported – reminded the Board that the city of Monrovia has the land and resources necessary for the much-needed rail maintenance facility, but the city will only commit as a partner to this yard if Metro agrees to operate the Foothill Extension (to Azusa in 2013). To show how serious they were, Mary Ann Lutz stated that the city prefers not to have the yard, but they are willing to host it in return for the Foothill Extension.

Speaking of local elected officials, county-uniter and West Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl stated in his public comment his support for the Congressional letter and the idea of including more projects in Metro’s federal strategy.

Board Responds to Congressional Letter

With the bipartisan Congressional letter having taken the transit news circles by storm, there was no way the Metro Board was going to ignore it.

In the Chair’s report, Ara Najarian talked about going to Washington in an attempt to lay the groundwork for federal funding for the Subway and Regional Connector. After feeling like he had accomplished something, he was blindsided and put on the defensive when the Congressional letter surfaced. In response to the letter, Najarian stated that Metro had not done a good job of briefing our federal representatives on their local strategy – that there were details that our members of Congress were not aware of. In the end, Najarian’s message was simple: let’s all get our act together.

Ridley-Thomas, Antonovich, Fasana, and Molina Stand Up for Regional Equity

When it was the Metro Board’s turn to discuss the LRTP prior to their vote, much of the lengthy debate had centered around a motion drafted by Board members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gloria Molina, Michael Antonovich, and John Fasana. Without going into the details of the debate (in which Ridley-Thomas, Antonovich, Fasana, and Molina argued for regional equity until the very end), the motion eventually was included as an amendment in the final LRTP, which helped ease most of the concerns about the Foothill Extension’s future. So here’s what’s in for the San Gabriel Valley.

Pasadena to Azusa Phase Will Operate Earlier if Construction Finishes Earlier

With $851 million allocated for the first phase of the Foothill Extension in the prior draft of the LRTP, the lingering concern was the operational date set by Metro for 2017 – which meant the line would run almost 4 years after the expected completion in 2013. While not placing into writing an operational date of 2013, the amendment to the LRTP requires that Metro operate the line if the Construction Authority can complete it before 2017. Let’s see what happens.

Funding for Phase to Claremont

The amendment also instructs Metro staff to determine non-New Starts sources of funding for the Foothill Extension phase to Claremont and Crenshaw line. The second phase of the Foothill Extension needs approximately $320 million to complete construction. Metro Chair Ara Najarian mentioned a few weeks ago that the Foothill Extension could receive bits of federal assistance through the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and EPA departments. Maybe those?

In addition, like the first phase, Metro is required to commit to operating the line as soon as it is built.

So, let’s get to that groundbreaking in June, shall we?

For a breakdown of the overall issues, you can pick from a range of reports from the Los Angeles Times, Pasadena Star-News, LA Streetsblog, Curbed LA, and The Source (Metro’s official new blog).

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Editorials Collide as Metro Board Meeting Approaches

Posted by Albert

Several editorials made the rounds this morning on today’s big Metro Board meeting. Some of you might have received this already, but Foothill Extension Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian took the time this morning to give his thoughts and preview of the pieces. It’s pasted below.

Today has just begun and we already have a preview of the Metro Board Meeting later this morning. When you open the opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune today, you will see the very different views which will likely play out live during the meeting.

In the Times alone, there are two very different views – the first, an opinion by the paper; and the second, an opinion by three Congressional representatives (Judy Chu, Adam Schiff, and David Dreier). While in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the opinions of the paper and of the guest views provide more consistent messages (the guest view is a portion of the letter sent earlier this week by the 14-member delegation to the Metro Board).

Here are some highlights from the Los Angeles Times:

The Los Angeles Times opposes the position set forth in the letter by the Congressional delegates to the Metro Board earlier this week.  The subtitle for the opinion states their view clearly: “Perochialism by members of the area’s congressional delegation could derail the Wilshire Boulevard subway.” The paper supports the unanimous decision made last month by the Metro Board to seek federal New Starts funding for the Westside Subway and Regional Connector. They believe it is a “logical” decision. They go on to say that the Foothill Extension, Eastside Extension and Crenshaw lines can be funded locally and do not need federal funding; but also admit that the limitation in local funds could result in these lines not getting completed fully or as quickly.

In a very different opinion in the Times, the Congress members Chu, Schiff and Dreier remind readers of the risk that the county is taking by limiting its pursuit of federal funds. Citing the potential 7-10 year wait for the Westside Subway and Regional Connector to be eligible to receive significant amounts of federal funding, they point out that transit projects like Phase 2B of the Foothill Extension (Azusa to Montclair) are in a much better position to receive federal money in the near-term (without hurting the chances of the Westside Subway or Regional Connector in their pursuit of a federal funding agreement).

They state: “At a time when unemployment is a record high in our region, we must maximize the dollars coming into the County for good-paying jobs and needed infrastructure by being united as a region here and in Washington. The only way that can work is if we do not close doors on some projects at the expense of others. Southern Californians need them all.”

Some highlights from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

The Tribune’s view is to follow the advice of the delegation. The paper quotes the same Congressional letter (and includes the majority of the letter in the guest view), but highlights the tone of the letter, which is one of cooperation. They quote the end of the delegation’s letter, which says: “We would like to work together as a team as we pursue New Starts funding for Southern California’s priorities on the federal level.”

The paper then concludes with the following opinion: “That’s a heck of an offer of assistance from some very powerful people who seldom agree on anything. If the Metro board members turn it down, they’re nuts.”

Well, we don’t have to wait long to see what happens at the Metro Board meeting. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. this morning at Metro Headquarters.

For those who cannot make it, we will provide real-time updates from the meeting on our Twitter feed at iwillride.org, and you can always listen to the meeting by calling in – (213) 922-6045.

Of course nothing is as good as being in the room to watch first hand. Join the coalition of supporters attending the meeting to urge the board to commit to completing the Foothill Extension, including committing operational funds for Phase 2A (Pasadena to Azusa) in 2013.

The Journey Continues…

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Bipartisan Congressional Group Rings Warning Bell; Tells Metro Board How It’s Supposed to Be Done

Posted by Albert

(to read the full letter, click on the image below)

image If Metro was looking for delegates to help them get that federal New Starts funding for the Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector (their priority projects), they should probably look a lot harder – because the majority of the current crop of our county’s Congressional representatives aren’t too happy with some of the Board’s recent decisions.

Yesterday, ten members of Congress from Los Angeles County (out of 18 total) and four members from nearby counties signed a letter that criticized the Metro Board of Directors for pursuing a federal funding strategy that only included the Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector. Using their insight on federal matters, they highlighted that “it is highly unlikely that federal funding for the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector Transit Corridor could be allocated through the federal New Starts process in as little as 3 years, leaving the County without a source of federal funds in the interim.”

If all of this is sounding somewhat familiar, it is because this issue was brought up by Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office at last month’s Metro Board meeting – and repeatedly by us since then. And in case the Metro Board were not convinced enough that these fourteen members of Congress knew what they were talking about, they also presented a list of recent transit projects around the country that had received federal funding – most of which waited well beyond the 3 years that Metro staff had projected for the Subway and Regional Connector.

Let us remind you that this letter never went into the merits of the Subway and Regional Connector, because they are much needed projects – when included as part of a true regional plan. But Metro’s federal strategy currently stands, as stated in the letter, to further exacerbate the “regional inequity” (in comparison to other cities across the country) that Los Angeles County is all too familiar with when seeking assistance from Washington.

So Congress Members Come Up with Plan That Would Actually Work

Seeing the need to save Los Angeles County from a potential tremendous loss of federal money if Metro were to go ahead with their current plan, the Congressional group came up with a strategy that would not leave our region behind (again) when it came to securing federal dollars – all the while highlighting a particular project that could lead that charge:

“It seems extremely short-sighted not to include the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Gold Line Eastside Extension and Crenshaw/South Bay Transit Corridor in Metro’s New Starts funding priority list. The Gold Line Foothill Extension project, Azusa to Montclair, is developed enough to be ready for Federal New Starts funds in the years before the Westside Subway Extension and the Regional Connector Transit Corridor.”

Sounds about right.

Meanwhile, Local Leaders Plan Fight for First Phase of Extension Until the Very End

The Metro Board’s determination to finally pass the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan usually means the current draft of the plan is probably what we will see become the finalized plan – but don’t tell that to County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Duarte Councilman John Fasana.

With the current draft of the plan still looking at a 2017 operating date for the first extension to Azusa, Antonovich and Fasana – both Metro Board members – plan on introducing a motion at Thursday’s meeting in an attempt to get Metro to commit to operating the line in 2013.

We’ll See on Thursday

How the Metro Board of Directors act in response to the majority of their Congressional representatives’ criticism remains to be seen. And we really mean it remains to be seen. The same can be said for Antonovich and Fasana’s noble attempt to introduce just one small change that would make the San Gabriel Valley breathe a little easier. Here’s hoping.

The Metro Board meeting takes place tomorrow, Thursday, October 22, at 9:30 AM at the Metro building. We’ll be there to cover the big meeting on Twitter @iwillride.

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Long Range Transportation Plan Moves to Metro Board for Vote Next Week

Posted by Albert

As expected, the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan moved virtually (and almost uncharacteristically) without a whimper through the Metro Planning and Programming Committee on Wednesday (the committee is comprised of six Metro Board members). This sets the stage for the big and final vote by the Metro Board of Directors at next Thursday’s Board meeting. If you ever had to bet that the Metro Board would vote on the LRTP, now would be a good time to do it. But before we move on to next week, there were a few things to highlight at the meeting – mainly how the San Gabriel Valley fared with a few lingering requests for the Gold Line Foothill Extension.

Request #1 from San Gabriel Valley to Metro Board members: Open the line in 2013

Elected officials and their representatives from all over the San Gabriel Valley made public comments before the committee. Many reiterated not only that the LRTP needs to be approved with the amount of funding currently included for the Foothill Extension, but also that Metro needs to move the operating date for Phase 2A (to Azusa) from 2017 to 2013.

The highlight of the comment period came from Monrovia City Manager Scott Ochoa, who had a proposition to offer to the Metro Board members: the City of Monrovia has the perfect setup, land, and resources for the much-needed rail maintenance yard that Metro is pursuing, but we need a commitment to get the line up and running by 2013.

Response from Planning and Programming Committee:

No reaction. None. Nothing. Nada. (keep the synonyms for these words rolling)

By that, we mean there was no discussion by the committee before they voted to recommend the adoption of the LRTP.

Request #2 from San Gabriel Valley: Let’s not close the doors on hundreds of millions of dollars by excluding projects that are eligible for federal funding

Speakers from the San Gabriel Valley also told the Metro Board members that they should amend the plan to include the Foothill Extension on the agency’s wish list for federal funding, and should be prepared to fund operations for the line to Claremont in 2017.

In another eye-opening look at our region in comparison to other major cities, we caught a glimpse of Metro’s infamous New Starts funding map (click the image to enlarge) when a member of the public asked Metro staff to show it on the big screen and reminded the Board members that we need to be strategic in our planning or risk losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

Response from Committee:

A motion introduced by way of Metro Board members Diane DuBois and Pam O’Connor instructing Metro staff to compile a list of transit projects that would qualify for other sources of federal funding.

The report from Metro staff is due in January. Yes, January. However, shouldn’t the agency already know what projects qualify for federal funding?

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One Step Closer: Metro Releases Final(?) Draft 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan

Posted by Albert

image
Metro kid: We did it!
San Gabriel Valley: Not so fast Metro kid.

You’ve seen these four words tossed around quite a bit: Long Range Transportation Plan, or LRTP for short. It is the grand-daddy of transportation plans in Los Angeles County. It sets on paper what, how, and when transit projects can be funded – of which the Metro Board can change with a majority vote. This lone document has fueled more articles on this blog than any other transit topic or issue (federal funding will take the crown after a few more months). With the exception of the Bus Riders Union and bike advocates, probably no other group has agonized more over the details of the LRTP than the supporters of the Foothill Extension – and for good reason.

9 Months Ago

Since the draft LRTP was reintroduced into the transit news circles by Metro staff in January, many things have changed for the better for the San Gabriel Valley in this plan. However, the path wasn’t without a few heartaches in the beginning and along the way.

That LRTP in January was a carryover from 2008 – when the Metro Board held off on a vote to approve the plan to give Los Angeles County voters a chance to pass the half-cent sales tax increase that was Measure R last November. Measure R passed (look no further for proof than the sales tax on your receipt), and when the LRTP was given an “update” in a January Metro staff report, it still excluded the Foothill Extension (to Azusa) from initial funding despite it being the only proposed Measure R light-rail project that was ready for construction. The Foothill Extension Construction Authority, San Gabriel Valley residents, businesses, elected officials, newspapers, students, and everyone else in between took issue with it – also giving birth to this blog. To make a long story short, through a combined effort on all levels from the San Gabriel Valley, Metro revised the LRTP to include $875 million for the first phase of the Foothill Extension to Azusa. Yay?

Hold Off That Celebration

Metro recently released their final draft of the 2009 LRTP, and, besides the new plan shaving off $24 million for the Extension (bringing funding to $851 million), not much has changed since the Extension was included for funding back in June. The operations date for the Foothill Extension to Azusa is still set for 2017 in the plan. With the groundbreaking most likely happening next year, the construction of the first phase can be finished and the line can be ready in 2013. Let’s not wait 4 years after the line has been completed to operate the thing.

Looking past the stop at Azusa, many other cities are still waiting for their portion of the Foothill Extension to be funded. The recent debate over federal funding has become a big issue because of Metro’s decision to back only two projects for federal money: the Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector. Now let us repeat that these are two very important transit projects that should receive help from Washington. However, like we have pointed out before, our county stands to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars because of an unrealistic (most likely unachievable) timeframe Metro has put in place for the Subway and Regional Connector to qualify for federal money. And like Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office has pointed out, the second phase of the Foothill Extension to Montclair is in a much better position to receive federal funding much sooner – without impacting the Subway and Regional Connector’s chances at federal funding when these two projects finally do qualify.

Like Metro Board Chair Ara Najarian stated, we need to be unified in order to sell our transit projects to Washington. In order for our delegation to the federal government to become unified, we cannot close the doors on projects that are eligible for federal funding.

What’s Next?

The Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee will meet on Wednesday, October 14, 1:00 PM at the Metro building to consider the LRTP. Then, assuming nothing out of the ordinary happens at the meeting, the LRTP moves to the Metro Board of Directors for a final vote. Yes, after a few false jump-the-gun moments in the past months, the Metro Board of Directors (we’re assuming) will finally vote on the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan – 3 months after Measure R’s half-cent sales tax increase had kicked in.

For more information on the meeting, and if you’d like to attend, visit our Act Now page.

Update: though we were able to obtain the LRTP documents ourselves, the direct link on Metro’s website don’t seem to be working. If you think you might have better luck, you can check out the Planning and Programming Committee agenda and click on the links in Item 10 for the LRTP.

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Pasadena Star-News Editorial Board Shares Frustration, Repeats Battle Cry

Posted by Albert

Fresh off of last month’s Metro Board meeting and last week’s public-private industry workshop, the Pasadena Star-News’ editorial board took the time to weigh in on the recent developments surrounding the Foothill Extension. The piece vents a similar frustration about Metro and the County potentially losing out on federal funds in the next cycle by excluding the extension. For the entire editorial, click on the link below.

Again, without arguing the merits of those two projects, it’s clear that they are not nearly as far along in terms of planning, engineering and land acquisition as the Gold Line Foothill. The two will only be available for federal funding five to eight years down the line, while the Gold Line is ready now. Would the MTA risk missing out entirely on upcoming federal New Start funding just to push two pet projects that are not yet qualified?…

… We reiterate that the project needs Metro’s support. Which is why we are once again urging the Metro board to place the project in the agency’s Long Range Transportation Plan, and commit the $875 million from the half-cent sales tax San Gabriel Valley residents are currently paying.

Source: Our View: Gold Line taking bidders

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Ara Najarian: Let’s Get Along

Posted by Albert

The Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority held a workshop on Tuesday to pursue partnerships with the private sector in an attempt to accelerate construction of the Foothill Extension. While the focus of the day was all business for Authority CEO Habib Balian and the many firms present, our focus was on the keynote speech delivered by Metro Chairman Ara Najarian – and what a speech it was. The videos of the speech are posted below, but if you don’t have time to listen to a 12 minute speech (nobody blames you if you don’t), we’ve bullet-pointed the highlights for you.

Part 1 Part 2

Highlights from Ara’s keynote:

  • He was skeptical that Measure R would pass. He was also one of the opponents of Measure R at the time because of equity/lack of fair distribution of revenue. However, proponents get kudos for getting county to vote for Measure R.
  • Measure R will not only change the fabric of every community in the county, but it will also change how we, as a region, are perceived by the world.
  • In explaining the delay in passing the Long Range Transportation Plan, Ara noted that there was a lot of discord among the regions when he became Chair. He didn’t want to pass the LRTP with a 7-6 or 8-5 vote. He felt that would send the wrong signal to our county, Sacramento, and Washington.
  • They are working hard to get federal funding. Very few regions in the country have made the same kind of commitment to transportation funding. But other cities have done a great job lobbying Washington for money.
  • As the car culture center of the world, our county makes the best case for federal funding because we’re trying to get drivers out of their cars. If people start using the Foothill Extension, it should be a model for the rest of the country.
  • The Subway to the Sea and Regional Connector were chosen to apply for federal funding because they don’t have initial funding from Measure R.
  • There were forces inside Metro who wanted to kill the Gold Line Foothill Extension. But he has been trying to get everyone back together on the same page because we can’t succeed as a county if every sub-region only pushes their projects.
  • Our residents are committed to transit funding, and we need to sell that commitment to Washington.
  • Because the Foothill Extension will have several transit-oriented developments around its stations, there’s no reason why it can’t get HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funding as well. Would also get EPA benefits.
  • Ara will put pressure on Metro CEO Art Leahy to break ground on the Foothill Extension before his term as Chair ends on June 30, 2010. He wanted in on the fun of a groundbreaking.

For a breakdown of the workshop itself, the Pasadena Star-News has a report.

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