To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reorganization or Shakeup? Change in Metro Staff Has Some Wondering About Highway Projects


By Damien Newton, February 24, 2014

 Failing, pre-beard, speaks at a safety press event. Image: ##http://www.710studysanrafaelneighborhoodposts.com/2013_01_08_archive.html##710 Study San Rafael Neighborhoods##

 Metro recently released executive director of higway programs Doug Failing, shown here speaking at a safety press event.

“It’s a bloodletting.”

While Metro’s public relations team is portraying the departure of several high-profile senior staff as nothing more than the by-product of a reorganization, some in Metro’s personnel believe the staff shakeup is being pushed by CEO Art Leahy to best prepare the agency for the massive construction projects that are coming online.

As one Metro spokesperson, who was speaking on background as he is not authorized to speak about personnel matters noted, Metro has historically only worked on one rail transit project at a time. It is currently building three, with two more projects about to come online. A major change in the type of projects Metro is overseeing construction of naturally leads to a change in the structure of the agencies project delivery departments.

But that can only explain so much of the “bloodletting.”

A second explanation is offered in the Pasadena Star-News. Following a motion by Glendale City Councilmember and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian, Metro hired professional consultants to examine the agency. Their report showed an agency that is overstaffed leading to Leahy’s effort to streamiline the agency.

“It’s an attempt to streamline the upper management of Metro and to make sure we are operating as efficiently as possible,” Najarian said. “We felt that it was getting a little too bureaucratic and at least at the top level we were losing sight of our core mission and our core direction and too much involved in the day-to-day management of departments and divisions of departments.”

Michelle Lopes Caldwell, Metro’s chief administrative services officer, Roger Moliere, Metro’s executive director in charge of real estate, and Doug Failing, Metro’s executive director of highway programs, have all left the company in recent weeks. Two different sources, and the Los Angeles Times are saying that Terry Matsumoto, the agency’s chief financial officer is next. The departures are happening so quickly, that Metro’s online “management staff directory” has the wrong people listed as the heads of at least four departments.

The biggest departure is Doug Failing, who previously served 29 years at Caltrans including running the District 7 Office in Downtown Los Angeles. While Metro staff assured me on Thursday that the long-time transportation executive was just the victim of a reorganization.  Both Failing and Bryan Pennington were candidates for the new position heading the construction department that will include highway and rail construction. When Pennington was offered the position, Failing chose to retire.

At least that’s the quasi-official story. While Failing hasn’t publicly commented on his departure, friends noted his LinkedIn account now features a sarcastic comment about being laid off and unemployed. Former colleagues, again speaking on anonymity, referred to Failing’s departure as a “firing.”

Pennington was a manager in the rail delivery program, but not the head of that division in Metro so his new position is a double-promotion of sorts. He went from “upper-middle-management” to reporting directly to the CEO heading a department double the size of the one he worked in previously.

Pennington reported to K.N. Murthy, the former director of rail delivery, who will stay on at the agency in a new role.

Despite Failing being the head of a department that pushed some of Streetsblog readers least popular Metro programs, the High Desert Corridor, the I-710 Big Dig and Carmageddon to name a few, there was little doubt that he was well liked even among his detractors.

“The relentless pursuit of the 710 freeway projects is probably Metro’s most misguided, mismanaged and fiscally disastrous undertakings and Doug was probably ported over from Caltrans to further their infernal highway pursuits,” writes Judy Bergestresser with the NO-710 Coalition. “…but he’s so darn likeable it’s hard to hold him responsible.”

Questions about the future of the controversial 710 expansion project, which Metro refers to as the “710 Gap Closure” project and Streetsblog the “710 Big Dig”, has dominated the discussion of the shakeup. Three of the key figures in pushing the highway expansion project project despite its questionable value and political controversy, were among those let go: Failing, Moliere, and Metro Public Affairs Director Lynda Bybee.

Opponents of the 710 also note that it had been a dead project for decades before it was revived by then Metro CEO Roger Snoble, Art Leahy’s predecessor. Snoble’s been gone for half-a-decade, and the former bus-driver that runs Metro might not be as excited by mammoth highway projects..especially as the Sepulveda Pass Widening Project (the origin of which preceded both Leahy and Failing) continues to be an ongoing embarrassment: over budget, over promised, late and of such questionable merit that even the Metro Board Members who represent the area impacted by the project concede it was a mistake.

Partial funding for the 710 Big Dig is set aside in Measure R, but nowhere near enough to begin construction, even if the project had received environmental review which it has not. Funding for construction does not come online until the end of the 30-year transit funding measure. Of course, timelines can change.

Whether it’s a bloodletting or a needed restructuring, Metro is losing a lot of experience and brain-power. Whether or not that will lead to a more open and efficient agency remains to be seen. With so much turnover at the top, either the credit or the blame for the fallout from this shakeup can only stop at the very top.

Comment to the article:

 J. SooHoo:

Apart from his lack of experience with transit projects, Mr. Failing has had some moments in recent months that could make his superiors concerned. Here are a few.
1. He was on the CTC agenda for its Dec. 11 meeting in Riverside.
He and Carrie Bowen (Caltrans Dist. 7 Director) were to give an
update on the SR-710 project. He began by telling the Commissioners
that his presentation would be very brief because he didn't have
anything new to report. You could have heard a pin drop when he
said this. One of the commissioners noted that it had been more
than a year since he'd been before the Commission. He went on to
give a 5 minute cruise through only a few slides, each of which
represented one of the five alternatives Metro is studying. There
was nothing that was in his presentation that could not have been
presented well over a year ago.

2. After Anthony Portantino, Richard Schneider, Don Voss and others
in the group of 14 opponents who spoke at the CTC meeting, made
statements to the Commission about the lack of an MOU between
Caltrans and Metro and also about the lack of a cost-benefit
analysis, the commissioners asked Failing and Bowen if this was
true. They then pressed the duo quite hard on why no cost-benefit
had been done and when a cost-benefit analysis would be completed
and made available. It was clear that the commission was not happy
about this, especially with the release of the DEIR only a few
months away and over $40 million of the Measure R $780 million having been spent on consultants.

3. Failing and Metro Chair Diane DuBois appeared on a Santa Monica cable
channel show Oct. 17, 2013. Viewers were able to call in and ask
questions of them. I called in and asked him how Metro's
estimate for the SR-710 tunnels could be just $5 Billion when its
estimate for the same diameter, 9-mile Sepulveda Pass Corridor tunnel is twice that -- $10 Billion -- even though their documents and reports state that
they used the per mile cost of the Seattle tunnel as a base. Failing
tried to justify it by stating that Sepulveda was 9 miles and SR-710
was only 4.5 miles, so "The numbers work out". When I pointed out
that Metro's published plan calls for 2, 4.5-mile tunnels for a total of 9 miles,
comparable to Sepulveda Pass, he began to backpedal and things went
downhill from there. I was stunned by his responses and couldn't
really discern if he was lying or just woefully uninformed about the
details of the projects. There is video of the broadcast at: http://thesource.metro.net/201...
4. Obviously, the 405 is an important freeway and resolving some of
the congestion is a priority for Metro. The Sepulveda Pass
Corridor project is high profile for them, perhaps even more high
profile than the SR-710 project. They really, really want it done.
I believe that Failing is viewed as responsible for the controversy over the
SR-710 project and I think Metro does not want to take a chance on
similar issues and controversy arising over the Sepulveda Pass
project. They just didn't trust that he could get the job done.