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fighting over Prop 1B money

By enelson
Friday, April 11th, 2008 at 8:04 pm in Misc. Transportation.

You knew it would happen. After all the arm-in-arm campaigning for Prop 1B by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senate leader Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, you knew that with $19.9 billion on the table, all that caring and sharing would have to come to an end.

In talking to the folks back in 2006, when that transportation bond measure was on the ballot and I was just stumbling my way around my beat, they all said they’d work in harmony to get the money spent.

If they didn’t, the pols insisted, the voters would see that it was just another cynical money grab and the next time one of these measures went on the ballot, they’d vote it down.

Now democracy is a process, and an ugly one at that. Direct democracy, as we enjoy here in the Golden State, can be even uglier.

Therefore, one has to allow for some vigorous debate when it comes time to divvy up the money from such a major spending program as Prop 1B.

I saw that back in early 2007, when the state’s transportation officials duked it out over the biggest pie slice, $4 billion in highway money. I even made my own contribution, singling out the $170 million Willits Bypass project as an example of a project that, in the view of Bay Area transportation officials, would not be the most cost-effective way to reduce traffic congestion.

So even though I never promised to be good, I suppose I’m living in the proverbial glass house and should just stop right here.

The Bay Area succeeded in wresting every penny of that money that Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission staff recommended for Willits, and they did so by prevailing on Commission members to see the logic of spending the money to help unclog freeways with 10 times as much congestion, like Interstate 580 through the Livermore Valley.

And as a former commuter on the San Diego Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass, I felt the pain of all those elected officials who trooped up to Sacramento to demand that the southbound carpool lane on that stretch of freeway get funding.

But the CTC passed its highway program, and now it’s up to LA, the Bay Area and all those other areas to get keep their projects moving and preserve their funding.

Now comes the Prop 1B’s Trade Corridor Improvement Fund. It’s 2 billion, and it inspired a much more orderly process than the highway account did.

The Bay Area and Sacramento Area and San Joaquin Valley people all got together and decided where they could agree on useful freight rail, highway and waterway projects. They went to the CTC and made the case that, while the Port of Oakland may be somewhat smaller than the ports of LA and Long Beach, it serves the lofty purpose of getting Central Valley produce to international markets, of getting our tech stuff shipped, of moving our world-famous wine.

The problem was, LA people expected that with 85 percent of the state’s cargo container traffic, they ought to get 85 percent of the trade corridor money. So the CTC made them a bargain: They agreed to give them, by recommended by-corridor formula, enough funding for all the projects on their list.

Then they came up with an extra $437 million that the CTC controls so that the Bay Area and its new friends in Northern California could get all of their projects, too. Plus, they went out on a limb and assumed they could get, like, $650 million from Congress when it reauthorizes its transportation program in 2009.

The problem, it seemed, was that the math still didn’t work for LA. With more money in the kitty, they were getting barely more than half, rather than 85 percent.

Núñez, a Los Angeles Democrat, said that wasn’t acceptable. On Thursday, the CTC approved the plan with LA getting less than 54 percent, depending on how you calculate it, and Núñez was still unhappy.

To demonstrate his feelings on the subject, he demanded that Roger Snoble, chief of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO, as he said in a letter to the MTA board Thursday after the CTC decision:

As you know, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) today ratified a decision on allocating bond funds related to goods movement that will effectively shortchange Los Angeles County by approximately half a billion dollars…

In November 2007, Mr. Snoble agreed to what was almost universally recognized as a bad deal for Southern California.  His agreeing to that deal has made it impossible for those of us who opposed the deal to succeed in repairing the damage.  More recently, Mr. Snoble has apparently made it clear to allies of our cause that this is “no big deal” for the MTA and not worth fighting for.  Both actions can only harm Los Angeles County’s interests and no doubt helped set the stage for the CTC’s decision today.

More succinctly, he told the LA Times, “He screwed this thing up.” Seeking Snoble’s comment, Times reporter Patrick McGreevy found him on vacation Thursday.

So I’m sitting in the Speaker’s office Thursday afternoon and hearing that there might just be a legislative fight over this money. And today, standing in the sunshine on the new Bay Bridge West Approach waiting for the governor’s blowtorch chain-cutting ceremony, I’m learning that the Assembly speaker can, in fact make plenty of mischief with the CTC’s plan.

The thing is, there’s going to be a dynamic at work in Sacramento when Núñez is termed out and the speakership is taken over by Karen Bass, another Los Angeles Democrat. What the Bay Area will be losing, however, is its dandy dealmaking Don Perata, D-Oakland, who will be replaced by Sen. Gerald Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat.

I won’t pretend to know much about the new leaders, but I do know that the Port of Oakland is not in Sacramento, and those trade corridors aren’t likely to carry the same weight up there as they do down here. That means LA could, in the process of negotiating, say, a health-care reform plan or a new gaming pact, squeeze a couple more projects out of the trade corridor program.

Whether that will help or hurt any future infrastructure bond measures at the ballot box, I’ll wager, will depend on what DOES get built between now and then, and less on who gets what percentage of the money.

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One Response to “fighting over Prop 1B money”

  1. dto510 Says:

    Actually, the Port of Oakland is in Sacramento. Oakland controls the Port of Sacramento.

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