Metro Backs Federal Stimulus Funding for Foothill Extension, but not without a debate: A Letter From Habib Balian

[Habib Balian is the CEO of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.]

The Metro board, at its meeting Feb. 26, approved a plan to seek federal stimulus package funding that included $150 million for the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The good news is that the Metro board in a unanimous vote officially supported the project and directed Metro staff to make sure that the Gold Line Foothill Extension is ready to seek federal funding when the money becomes available. LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Duarte City Councilman John Fasana and LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina led the effort at the meeting.

The more interesting news is how it came about. The funding request was part of a larger item on how to apply for funding through the recently enacted 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Keeping in mind that the proposal prepared by Metro staff was based on speculating Metro’s share of stimulus funding, the motion proposed seeking $300 million for the Gold Line Foothill Extension and Expo Line Phase I.

During the debate on the motion, an amendment was made to remove the section regarding the Gold Line. Proponents argued that the Federal Transit Administration had yet to issue funding guidelines for rail projects, so the item containing the Foothill Extension should be removed from the motion. Board members Fasana and Antonovich protested, arguing the board should support the Gold Line because it is ready to go and could leverage the Measure R funding to secure additional federal money. Measure R is the county’s half-cent sales tax that goes into effect on July 1.

LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy countered if the motion was supported as it was written the Foothill Extension could “leapfrog” other rail lines for federal funding, adding that the board’s support for the measure would be tantamount to giving permission to the Foothill Extension Construction Authority to apply for federal funds. Supervisor Molina stood up in support of the Foothill Extension, saying the effort to remove the Foothill Extension from the spending proposal was “payback” for the San Gabriel Valley’s vote on Measure R.

Molina’s argument immediately shifted the debate, forcing proponents of the amendment to retreat and support the staff proposal, with some minor amendments that allow the board to alter its recommendation depending on the federal guidelines for rail projects.

Ultimately, there was a lot of debate over the Foothill Extension and it was clear to everyone involved that we are ready to go – all we need is funding.

The journey continues…

Habib F. Balian

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