Our View: Monstrous Metro vs. Gold Line – Pasadena Star-News Editorial

The following Pasadena Star-News editorial was originally published on July 7, 2012.

Our View: Monstrous Metro vs. Gold Line

In the age of Twitter and other instantaneously transmitted social media, some public officials have become cautious – perhaps overly so – in expressing how they feel and think about important policy issues.

For Metro CEO Art Leahy, not so much.

Speaking this month of the broken promise to San Gabriel Valley voters that the Gold Line would extend to Claremont, Leahy said: “Some of you are going to think I am a monster for saying this. The Gold Line is funded to Azusa. Period.”

We’re not quite sure whether, when a governmental organization’s management is caught telling a massive lie, it should make us feel any better that it admits it has told that lie.

What we do know is that, back in 2008 when Metro was seeking crucial votes from the millions of people in the San Gabriel Valley on the half-cent Measure R sales tax to fund transit in Los Angeles County, we were told what we now know was a whopper.

The original text of Measure R as passed by voters countywide defined the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line light-rail project as a new track and stations east from its current Pasadena terminus to Claremont. That’s what we voted for. And now we are victim to yet another bait-and-switch by city of Los Angeles officials, including outgoing Metro Chair Antonio Villaraigosa. The newly proposed extension of that sales tax beyond its current 2039 sunset – in order to borrow money to spend now against those future revenues – cuts back the promised extension, going no farther east than Azusa.

The good news on that front is that as of July 1 the mayor of Los Angeles was replaced as Metro chair by San Gabriel Valley County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who has long sparred with the mayor over the big city’s pilfering of public transit funds intended for county-wide use.

So we’ll have an advocate at the top. But it’s not clear that the damage isn’t already done.

Many people with a knowledge of taxation economics know that sales taxes can be a dubious way of raising public monies, impacting the poor and local businesses adversely. We, and likely many east county voters as well, were going to have a hard time supporting the extension of this tax as it was.

Now that its key local component has been unethically stripped away, think it’s going to get easier for us to support the tax on the ballot?

We are all for extending transit everywhere in our megalopolis. We’re interconnected, and we want to be able to travel by rail to LAX and on the Subway to the Sea with the rest of L.A.

But as the great Southern California historian D.J. Waldie writes in his Socal Focus blog for KCET, this betrayal is about more than transportation: “The mayor’s support for L.A.-centric transit isn’t just a matter of skewing which projects get funded first. . . . new residential and commercial development will preferentially go where transit goes. By building out rail corridors in L.A. decades before light rail comes to Claremont or Montclair or the Ontario Airport, Metro is picking which property owners and developers will be winners and which will not, just like the railroads did in the Old West.”

To repurpose the California quote sometimes attributed to Twain: “Whiskey’s for drinking; train tracks are for fighting over.”

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