By John Mirisch, April 21, 2014
Most people in Los Angeles County would agree that transportation and
infrastructure upgrades are critical for our future as a region. Most
people would also agree that democracy is the best form of government
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has an
operating budget for 2014 of close to $5 billion. That’s more than the
general fund budget of some 15 states. With close to 9,000 full-time
staffers, the agency also has more employees than some states.
And yet despite this almost unprecedented infusion of taxpayer
funding, the governance structure of Metro is at worst grossly
undemocratic and at best grossly disproportional, with some 60 percent
of the county’s voters underrepresented by 50 percent.
Los Angeles has approximately 4 million residents. The other 87
cities in the county have approximately 6 million residents. Four Metro
board members represent 4 million people, while another four Metro board
members represent 6 million people. So much for “One person, one vote.”
Just as the numbers are pretty self-evident, so is the solution,
assuming the current governance structure of Metro is retained: two
additional Metro Board members should be added and these additional
board members should represent the 87 non-L.A. cities in the county.
Of course, this pretty simple “fix” assumes that the current
remains. A strong case can be made that for such a
massive, rich, powerful and – unfortunately, in its current form – often
opaque agency, direct representation would make Metro more accountable
to the citizenry it is supposed to serve. Simply stated, the current
system is undemocratic: none of the board members are directly elected
to the position, the board includes appointees, as well as officials who
are elected in other capacities and as such have no direct
accountability to the voters.
Five elected supervisors currently represent all of Los Angeles
County. Each has the task of representing 2 million people. If Metro had
15 board members directly elected by the residents of the county, each
board member would be directly accountable to some 670,000 voters in
his/her district. Metro districts could be drawn so that a commonality
of transit needs and habits are reflected in order to ensure that all
voices of L.A. County are being heard – which is most certainly not the
Since the days of “Chinatown,” L.A. has become notorious as a city
where “pay to play” and the influence wielded by special interests have
become almost a standard part of development and doing business.
Under the current regime, the voices of large swaths of voters in
L.A. County can and have been ignored with virtually no recourse on the
part of the electorate.
Furthermore, Metro is a government agency that can put taxes on the
ballot which is all the more reason to directly elect Metro’s directors.
There’s now talk about raising taxes yet again. Yep, in conjunction
with Metro, “advocacy groups” like MoveLA, which are funded by crony
capitalist types who stand to benefit directly from the massive influx
of tax dollars, are suggesting that the county increase the sales tax by
another half cent in order to pour billions more into this undemocratic
bureaucracy, all in the name of “infrastructure upgrades.”
It’s one thing to vote for a bond, and yet another to vote for those
who are responsible for administering the bond. Voters lose control and
accountability vanishes if those who are supposed to administer a bond
or tax are not directly responsible to voters. When a school board
proposes a bond, the voters decide on the funding, but they are also
able to vote against board members who don’t administer the bond in a
fair or equitable way, or in a way that provides the best
The electorate can vote out board members who are involved in
cronyism and/or who are poor stewards of the public’s tax dollars.
Metro’s appetite for more of our tax dollars comes at a time when the
city of L.A. is considering tax and/or bond measures to cover such basic
functions as fixing streets and filling potholes.
The voters of L.A. County directly elect judges, the assessor, the
district attorney, the sheriff and the trustees of the L.A. County
Community College District, which has a budget that is some 40 percent
less than Metro. And that doesn’t include the additional $90 billion of
increased taxes that the special interests yet again are trying to push
through without direct accountability to the voters.
Metro should not get another dime of additional taxpayer money until
the governance structure is reformed so that full and direct
accountability is achieved.
It’s called democracy. Imagine the possibilities.
John Mirisch currently serves on the City Council of Beverly
Hills. As mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to work toward a
more open, transparent and participatory local government.