Friday, June 12, 2009

CityWatchLA - MTA: Take Me to Your Leader

CityWatch, June 12, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 47

Those who doubt that the City of Los Angeles is a ship adrift in treacherous waters need only visit the Metro Board to watch our Captain in action and they'll leave convinced that we are in dire straits.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shows up late, insults the public, lectures other elected officials, wanders off when the discourse fails to hold his attention then returns to pontificate before simply disappearing, all in a clear demonstration of the leadership style that the Los Angeles depends on as the city faces down biggest challenges of this generation. Granted, chairing the Metro Board is just one of San Antonio's many responsibilities but given the significance of the most recent regular Board Meeting and the $3.7 Billion budget they had on the agenda, one would think that he would at least stick around for the vote.

The Board meeting in question was scheduled to start at 9:30 am and the public was greeted with a sign that stated "The Metro wants your input" and then another smaller sign that stated "public comment cards will not be accepted after the start of the board meeting." With the Metro Boardroom filled to capacity at 9:30 and the overflow crowd sent to the cafeteria, the Metro's staff stopped taking cards and left the public to watch as the Boardmembers trickled in and finally reached quorum just shy of 10 am.

Props to the Governor's representative, Caltrans Director Doug Failing and Councilman Jose Huizar, both of whom were on time and ready to grapple with the future of transportation in LA County. They were joined by newly seated County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and collectively they served as the welcoming party for the other Boardmembers who drifted in as if their participation was a casual afterthought with little significance or impact on the lives of those who packed the room.

County Supervisor Don Knabe picked up the gavel and called the meeting to order, San Antonio still missing in action. He tried to knock a few items off the agenda, obviously stalling and then he took public comment, scheduled for the end of what looked to be a minimum of a three hour meeting and moved it to the beginning, mixing it up with public comment on agenda items.

This didn't bode well for members of the public who were counting on speaking at the end of the meeting and he called out names of people who couldn't get back into the main room in time to grab their 60 seconds of glory at the microphone.

During the confusion, San Antonio slipped in and took control of the meeting. Well, he gave it a shot. As the Metro's budget came up for discussion and action, he looked at the comment cards and then addressed the crowd, challenging them "Do you really need to speak on this item? We're in danger of losing quorum and if you speak it will only take up valuable time?" He repeated this challenge three times, growing more direct and condescending each time.

At one point, a member of the audience yelled out "I took the day off to come here and I'm going to address the Board!" Another member of the audience yelled out "I'm an elected official, just like you, and I'm here to speak on behalf of people who voted for me and expect me to represent them! I'm going to speak!" That guy is going to go far if he keeps that up!

When the dust had settled, the public had the opportunity to talk, the representatives of the surrounding communities had also spoken and San Antonio had slipped out the back door, leaving the remaining Boardmembers to approve the budget and set the course for the Metro.

Keep in mind, the Metro Board consists of heavyweights including the five County Supervisors, representatives from Glendale, Santa Monica, Lakewood, Duarte, the Governor's appointee, Doug Failing and San Antonio and his three appointees, Richard Katz, Jose Huizar and Rita Robinson.

One would hope that the Mayor of the largest City in the most populated State in the most powerful Country in the world would be able to lead this crew of seasoned veterans of the system in an orderly meeting, especially as they sit on Measure R funds that amount to tens of billions of dollars of OUR money, all precariously positioned and awaiting their leadership and vision and execution. One would also hope that these leaders would also keep San Antonio in check but such is not the case.

All the more reason for the people of Los Angeles to step up and to take responsibility for the future of this City and to ask the hard questions, "Who's at the helm and why are we headed for the rocks?" (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ◘

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