The following story originally appeared on the Pasadena Star-News website on October 24, 2013.
Azusa-to-Montclair Gold Line seeking new tax dollars
By Steve Scauzillo
CLAREMONT >> If they start building it, the taxpayers will fund.
In a nutshell, that’s the strategy being used by the agency building a 12.3-mile extension of the Gold Line light-rail train from Azusa to Montclair.
The project will cost $950 million and only $36 million has been raised. The rest of the money will have to come from Los Angeles County taxpayers through another transit tax measure being considered for the ballot in 2014 or 2016.
The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority has given up on asking for federal or state dollars and is putting its funding eggs in the taxpayers’ basket, said Habib Balian, the light-rail authority’s chief executive officer.
It is a similar strategy being considered by its parent, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, known as Metro, he said. While Metro is pursuing federal dollars for two bigger rail projects it will also need local matching funds, Balian said.
That puts Metro and the Gold Line in the same boat. At least, that is the hope of the San Gabriel Valley light-rail agency.
“We expect there will be a ballot initiative that Metro is preparing. Metro plans on asking county voters for a tax increase,” Balian told an audience of 70 city and regional transit officials at the Gold Line Foothill Phase 2B extension kickoff here Wednesday.
“Our project must be included in Metro’s (tax measure),” he added. “That is essential, or this project will not go forward.”
Metro board member and Duarte City Councilman John Fasana agreed with the Gold Line Foothill strategy. Apparently, so does Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a powerful member of Metro board.
“My sense is, Mr. Garcetti seems to be interested in the regional approach, but it is early,” Fasana said.
Balian was pleased to hear Garcetti say he supported building out the transit infrastructure. On Monday, the new L.A. mayor told KPCC at an event at the radio station’s auditorium in Pasadena his priority included “building out the lines that will take us from Claremont to the ocean and take us into LAX and up Crenshaw Boulevard.”
Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, has spoken to Garcetti about the Gold Line Foothill extension project, and Representatives Judy Chu and Grace Napolitano are planning a meeting with him on the topic, sources close to the project said.
Gold Line Authority leaders said Garcetti has been asking local cities, including the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, to come up with a list of transportation projects. Metro members Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Diane DeBois have also been getting SGV and Gateway cities COGs on board.
So far, the San Gabriel Valley COG listed the Gold Line’s Azusa to Montclair project and three others as top transit priorities. The other three are: 710 Freeway tunnel, Gold Line Eastside extension along the 60 Freeway, and funding for railroad bridges by the Alameda Corridor East (ACE) group.
The SGV COG is also supportive of Metro’s projects, such as the $1.4 billion Regional Connector, which extends the Gold Line from Little Tokyo to the 7th Street/Metro Center in downtown L.A. allowing passengers to connect to the Blue Line to Long Beach as well as other subway lines. Support for the $6.3 billion Westside subway (Purple Line) extension to Westwood may be a little shakier, he said.
Still, Fasana and Balian agreed that those two Metro projects are in line for federal dollars, edging out other projects.
“Both are in the queue ahead of us for federal support,” Balian said. “Though we would do well in the competition, we are behind those projects. That is the reality.”
Instead, the Gold Line Authority is going ahead with collecting bids in early 2014 for consultants, design and other specific planning work, he said, using $36 million left over from Phase 2A, the east Pasadena to Azusa/Citrus Avenue Gold Line extension under construction and set for completion in about two years.
In 2014, the Authority will meet with the cities of Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona, Claremont and Montclair to discuss station alignments and planning for high-density residential and commercial projects near the new train line.
“We want the cities to understand what they can expect during this next phase of work for the project,” Balian said.
Balian hopes to have the Azusa-to-Montclair project designed and ready for construction by 2017. Having a “shovel ready” project will put it in line for funding, whatever the source, he said.
“The only way to get those dollars is to be ready,” he told the audience.