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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

John Mirisch: The democratization of Metro


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 ever devised.

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 governance structure
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 case today.

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 value-for-money.

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.