Somber update Southern CA Transit Forum

Chapman University’s School of Law hosted a Southern California Transit Forum today that drew a crowd of 350 attendees representing labor, management, the business community and concerned residents. After sitting through several individual and panel discussions the “take away” could be summed up by some of the earlier speaker comments. Our state legislature has walked away from funding our public transit. “Houston, we have a problem.”

Prior to his opening remarks we watched video clips including one with Timothy A. Canova, Associate Dean and Professor of Law, Chapman University who states our having a “real challenge on how we are going to fund mass transit.” This is where I must have taken my eyes off the rails and missed an exit. I thought the major focus for today would be devoted to the CHSRA bullet train, especially as Mayor Pringle, Chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, was a featured speaker.

My reason for attending this Forum was to lobby my opposition to future, not current challenges on one public transportation project, its expenditures and funding sources, namely CHSRA. Accept for a few speakers mentioning our receipt of $2.25 billion in Stimulus funds for the CA high speed rail, we never addressed the project details.

Dr. Jim Doti,  president Chapman University, stated our “taking transportation for granted–it’s not a given.”

Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche said that “we are all here as our transit system is in critical condition.”

Immediately following mayor Cavecche was  Patrick D. Kelly, SecretaryTreasurer and Principle Officer, Teamsters Local 952. Mr Kelly didn’t pull any punches in his remarks where he opened saying “there is a transit funding crisis” He goes on to say “with all due respect, president Obama missed the boat on transit.”

Here we go again. Another petition. This time ONE MILLION CA voters will be asked to sign a new Initiative Petition which “PROHIBITS THE STATE FROM TAKING FUNDS USED FOR TRANSPORTATION OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROJECTS AND SERVICES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.”

Mr Kelly closes by sharing his somber opinion saying “I don’t think we’re going to get out of this crisis anytime soon.”

Lobbyist Josh Shaw, Executive Director,  CA Transit Association, gave us a peek into the latest maneuvers by our state legislature where the governor is proposing the elimination of public transit funding. Josh told us that Sacramento is heading in the opposite direction supporting public transits by diverting $3.5 billion as we rob Peter to pay Paul including $one billion from transit adding that “there is no state support for public funding today.” He is proposing a Constitutional Amendment to safeguard against transfer of money. Note: See above title.
In his remarks morning panel member  Assemblyman Jose Solorio told us to expect $20 billion deficits for each of the next three years.

Gilbert comment. Forget about high speed trains for tomorrow. The projected annual Bond Debt service for the CHSRA is somewhere between $500 million and one billion dollars that take priority while we can’t even pay our bills.

State Senator Lowenthal quotes our governor to say “its not the responsibility of the state to fund transit.”
Gilbert comment. This transit system is used by our lower income blue collar workers, students, seniors, those with special needs, hospital workers and teachers most of whom do not own vehicles, yet our governor is ready to throw billions of dollars that are being taken away from other citizen needs for a feel good rail system whose ridership numbers, cost and subsidy is purely speculative.

Will Kempton, CEO OCTA, tells us that we transported 57 million passengers on OC busses last year.
Gilbert note. If the governor wants to meet our transportation needs perhaps he should take responsibility for OCTA’s 20 percent cut of its local bus service with an additional 10 percent to follow later this year if operating funds do not materialize. If the financial shortfall is not corrected OCTA plans to cut 150,000 hours of service by this fall.

Priorities. Instead of funding local transit or our decaying highway transportation and bridge infrastructure, our governor needs to get his priorities straight. While we wait 10 to 30 years for a questionable transportation project, and governor Schwarzenegger is termed out of office, we have serious needs today that are being neglected.

Luncheon speaker James Earp, Executive Director California Alliance for Jobs, gave us a major nugget when he stated that we might be seeing the last breath of Prop 42 which generates $1.5 billion per year. There is a current discussion in Sacramento of swapping sales tax for excise tax. By shifting these buckets (with $700 to $800 million dollars per year) the state will not have to show (this revenue) for (Prop 98) education mandated revenues.

Rather than providing a lengthy recap of speaker comments let me close with a transit solution suggestion from Richard Katz, Board Member, LA County MTA.

 “Republicans have to stop protecting Prop 13″
” Democrats have to stop protecting Prop 98″

 “The governor’s proposal (swapping sales tax on gas for excise tax) should be defeated.”

One Panel Facilitator, Lucy Dunn, CEO OC Business Council, announced that “we have the worst infrastructure” in America. Yet as she suggested suspending AB32 and SB 375, the directive to get us out of our cars, you cut off public transit funding. Sen. Lowenthal would not yield on her suggestion. Afternoon panelist Barry Broad, Director of CA Teamsters Public Affairs Council, calls us the party of NO yet has no comment when Democrat Lowenthal refuses to push back on SB 375. OCTA CEO Kempton told us that “we will not meet SB 375 without a transit element.”

No wonder voters are fed up with our elected officials and resort to taking action via the Initiative process. With elected officials digging in their heals gridlock will be more than just in the state house in Sacramento.

Final comments. In speaking to other attendees before departing consensus was that while we heard many speakers identify the transit problems, none of them provided a take away solution to the current transit dilemma.


About Larry Gilbert