By Ken Alpern, September 10, 2013
ALPERN AT LARGE - Public and rapid transit need not, and should not, be a forum for left-wing extremism. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone to suggest that those advocating loudest for more mass transit usually come from a liberal/progressive background. There are environmental issues, there are affordable housing and affordable transportation issues, and there are urban planning issues that usually are within the aegis of liberal/progressive politics.
Unfortunately, the conservative forces within local, state and national politics are all too happy to oblige in fomenting the paradigms of public/rapid transit being "only a liberal issue". In part, this is because the Democratic Party dominates the urban landscape, where public transportation is more necessary, and the Republican Party dominates the rural landscape, where public transportation usually doesn't work.
We therefore have an unfortunate situation where those favoring spending policies have an all-or-nothing scenario where liberal extremists HATE roads and cars, conservative extremists HATE public transit (especially rail transit), and most taxpayers are wondering what the devil led both groups of extremists to their extremist thinking.
For example, there are those from all over the political spectrum who want to end the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) experiment, because it is proving far too cost-ineffective and filled with bait-and-switch pork-barrel politics than properly-prioritized transportation needs. To a large extent, Governor Brown HAS fixed this with reprioritizing Metrolink and Caltrain expansion in the CAHSR project, but it's arguably NOT the same project the voters approved in 2008. So should we kill the CAHSR altogether and build roads with that money? Should we kill it, or alter it, and fund other mass transit initiatives instead with that money?
There are legal obstacles, but arguably it's best to ensure that both urban and rural, rail and road, transit initiatives be better-funded because most taxpayers recognize that reality. The same can and should be true with respect to labor- and union-related issues and transportation. As I've mentioned before in CityWatch, we have a radical, taxpayer-and-commuter-be-damned Department of Labor Secretary, one Thomas Perez, who has enabled cruel and inappropriate public transportation unions to defund and delay necessary transit budgeting and construction [LINK].
Rather than give in to the public transportation union radicalism and craziness, which maintains that even unhired and yet-to-be-hired employees require immediate and current union representation (and their unborn children, and grandchildren, to boot), Governor Brown and many pro-labor leaders and politicians of our state are fighting for pension reform AND ensure federal transit funding.
Pension reform isn't anti-labor any more than Wall Street reform isn't anti-capitalism...and most people have the common sense to recognize that curtailing the excesses of human behavior isn't the same as hobbling a necessary part of our economy. Workers should have rights, and businesses should be allowed to thrive...this REALLY shouldn't be a "liberal" or "conservative" thing.
But there ARE radicals on both sides of the political spectrum who are often too well-represented, and it's safe to say that when Governor Brown (hardly a Red State right-winger) is fighting for pension reform, it's NOT appropriate for Labor Secretary Perez to hurt the commuters and transit agencies in our state by denying necessary funding for arguments that virtually all pro-transit advocates and consumer groups vigorously disagree with. Similarly, the issue of pension reform isn't the same as hurting those in the public sector who've earned a pension.
Asking public sector employees to contribute more to a pension system in order to keep that system sustainable is no more unreasonable than raising the issue of asking ALL Americans to do what it takes to keep Social Security sustainable and healthy. Yet those who refuse even the most basic premises of public sector pension reform paint those asking for some compromise as extremist [LINK], and do not realize how heartless and extremist towards taxpayers THEY come across as appearing.
And when public transportation unions threaten to either strike or support transit defunding from the aforementioned Labor Secretary Perez, they come across as those willing to throw their patrons and constituents under the very same buses and trains they drive every day. As with police officers and firefighters, transit workers should NOT be able to strike because of the devastation it causes society in general.
This isn't a right-wing or left-wing issue--it's a common sense, compassion-related issue, where those placed in charge of various constituents represent the needs of their constituents over their own personal needs. When the private sector thwarts the needs of their investors, employees and consumers, it's a grievous and wrongful thing...but it's a particularly grievous and wrongful thing when it occurs with public sector, taxpayer dollars. Mass transit and freeway-construction projects have two forms of job creation: the short-term jobs of construction, and the long-term jobs created by an economy that is enhanced by the establishment of greater mobility to and through a given region.
The latter form of job creation is harder to mandate, but the former is entirely fixable and able to be mandated by government oversight. And while I take issue with the Crenshaw/LAX line being a "black person's transit line," because commuters of all colors will use that line, and should build that line, I entirely support County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas's efforts to ensure that those impacted by, and who live next to, that rail line be allowed access to good jobs that will be created by upcoming construction efforts (LINK). Supervisor Ridley-Thomas isn't just fighting for economic justice...he's fighting for common sense and common decency.
And one shouldn't have to be part of a politically-connected contractor or union (public or private sector) to get a job building this $2 billion rail line. On this issue, I personally support Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in his efforts, and it's my contention and conviction that the entire county should support him as well.
Ultimately, however, the long-term job creation that is created by greater mobility is the job creation we must focus on the most. That form of job creation that merits the attention is truly "keeping one's eye on the ball," and for which transit and road construction is ultimately purposed. Workers need access to their jobs, and lower-income individuals are particularly hurt by lack of public transportation to their employment, shopping and other destinations of their daily existence.
To have left-wing extremists blackmail taxpayers and lower-income workers from necessary and appropriate transit operations and funding is as awful as when right-wing extremists threaten to dry up transit funding to serve their own hardline beliefs. Affordable housing and transportation really is NOT anything new under the sun, and neither is common sense or common decency. So both a plea and a demand to the left-wing, as with the right-wing, extremists in our society to show restraint is one that should be pursued by all who favor taxpayer and worker rights. This is not a left- or right-wing issue...just one based on simple human decency.