Friday, August 17, 2007

Officials Fumbling Over L.A. Mass Transit Funding

The L.A. Times has been giving excellent coverage over many months now to the fumbling efforts on the part of city, county and state officials to obtain funding for and proceed with the mass transit projects that are now so desperately needed in the Los Angeles area.

So far, the officials, of whom we have many who are not up to their jobs, have fallen down almost completely at bringing together the wherewithal for these projects -- of which the Wilshire Blvd. subway to Santa Monica, the extension of light rail service to many more areas and the filling of the 710 freeway gap between East Los Angeles and Pasadena are the most important.

Just today, on the second page of the California section, Rong Gong Lin II has another of his fine articles on the transit situation quoting MTA chief executive Roger Snoble as saying that of $30 billion in projects envisioned through 2030, funding in terms of additional projected revenue stands at only $4 billion. Only two relatively small light rail projects are under construction now.

The article is accompanied by an intriguing -- but incomplete -- map. The map shows some of the projects discussed in a sidebar but not others. As such, it is woefully inaccurate. When I was working for the newspaper, we used to have a lot of trouble with the graphics department, which lost some of its ablest people and often made glaring mistakes. I will not soon forget the earthquake map that one day placed Los Angeles in Ventura County.

But the important thing this morning is that Lin has listed all the projects and given a good sketch of what transit in Los Angeles could be like, were funding found.

It is worth noting that just about three months of the Iraq war costs being incurred by the United States would suffice to do the whole job promptly. I've supported the war, but local priorities for a decent life in this country are important too.

The Lin article notes, in fact, that the state is going backward. It has already been described in the Times how the Schwarzenegger administration has diverted some of the money in a $19.9 billion state transportation bond issue adopted by the voters last year to other purposes. And now, as Lin points out, the state budget as passed by the Assembly, has cut $1.3 billion from mass transit projects (although that version of the budget has not yet been accepted in the State Senate).

No one has been covering himself with glory in the struggle against traffic congestion in the Los Angeles area. We cannot forget that the inept County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was responsible for a measure that prohibited the use of certain tax revenues to continue building subways. Yaroslavsky, and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, are just as ineffective at seeing to it that adequate transportation funds are provided as they have proved to be in reforming and keeping open the Martin Luther King Hospital in South Los Angeles.

It need scarcely be noted that Los Angeles is beginning to drown in its own traffic and that failure to do something about this problem may impede orderly growth and economic prosperity in this area in years and decades ahead.

What is clearly needed are officials who aggressively go after the proper funding needed for these projects. Yet in the Lin article this morning Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quoted as saying that polling indicates voters would not support a tax increase for transportation projects. He suggests looking at congestion pricing or public-private partnerships to find it.

Congestion pricing is a horrible idea that would only engender continuing bitter controversy, and Orange County has shown that toll roads built privately are really not viable. Perhaps the polls the mayor refers to would change with aggressive campaigning by him and others, but it is also correct to ask why the electorate would want to vote more taxes for transportation when the bond issue has been diverted and delayed.

Maybe those who suggest that the mayor is so preoccupied with his personal life, he cannot proceed to be a full-time mayor, are being proven correct, although, for reasons stated earlier, I hate to see anyone's sex life, except for pedophilia or rape, held to be the public's business.

Still, someting has to be done. Why do we elect people to public office who will not work seriously at dealing with public problems? The easiest solution would be to raise the gasoline tax to adjust for inflation that has taken place since it was adopted in its present amount.

It really does seem rare these days to find officials who perform their duties skillfully and with integrity. That's why I was intrigued, while reading back issues of the paper after my recent trip, to find a profile of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen paying tribute to her for taking action to insure the sanctity of voting machines, protecting them against hackers even though there would be some expense in doing so.

Maybe Bowen should replace Villaraigosa as mayor, Schwarzenegger as governor or Snoble as head of the MTA. Maybe, she would be willing to do the job, no matter what job she was in.

--

The conviction yesterday of Jose Padilla by a federal jury in Miami on charges of aiding terrorist operations abroad is encouraging, and must be viewed as a victory for the Bush Administration. We see the victory confirmed in the grudging editorials in the New York Times this morning, and to a lesser extent in the L.A. Times.

The newspapers are too often blinded to the danger Islamic fundamentalism poses to the U.S. by their dislike of Mr. Bush. They should humbly think over their attitude again, and revise it as appropriate.

In the meantime, a possibly even more significant trial is proceeding in Dallas on federal charges that the Holy Land Foundation was, in fact, a Hamas front, sending charitable moneys collected in the U.S. to terrorists abroad. This trial, with the many difficult issues it raises, is getting extensive media attention, as indeed it should.

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