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Called 'Big Boondoggle' : Transit Funds Pile Up Without Being Spent

April 21, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Covina City Manager Richard Miller is not amused by the irony: The city does not have money to fix potholes, he said, but it has the cash to buy a fleet of buses to roll along the bumpy streets.

Miller said that because of Proposition A, which will give Los Angeles County cities $70 million for public transit this year, Covina is amassing transit money faster than it can figure ways to spend it, while other civic needs, from police protection to road maintenance, are under the usual tight budgetary constraints.

Proposition A money is allocated to cities on the basis of population and may be spent only for buses, vans, fare subsidies and other capital and operating costs of public transportation.

Miller said he regards Proposition A as "the biggest boondoggle ever." By the end of June, Miller said, Covina will have amassed $800,000 in surplus transit funds.

"I'd like to use it for road repairs, but we can't," Miller said. "We can't even spend the interest (on Proposition A fund deposits) for anything but transportation."

Forfeiture Threatened

Covina is not alone. Four other San Gabriel Valley cities--Bradbury, Irwindale, Sierra Madre and Walnut--are among 13 cities countywide that have spent so little of their Proposition A money that they are in danger of forfeiting their allocations.

Kristine Hill, an analyst with the county Transportation Commission, said Bradbury, which has accumulated $20,000 in three years, has not spent any of it. She said the commission staff has suggested that Bradbury join the Monrovia dial-a-ride program or subsidize taxicabs.

Irwindale has spent some money for transit studies, but has yet to develop a transit program, Hill said. Sierra Madre pays three cab companies to take residents anywhere in the city, but the program will take only $8,000 of the city's $96,000 revenue from Proposition A this year, so the city is devising plans to build RTD bus shelters and looking at a dial-a-ride program. Walnut, which will get $136,000 in Proposition A revenue this year, is considering a park-and-ride lot, among other programs. Walnut has spent only $9,000 this year, mostly on a van to transport groups to recreational activities.

Officials in two other San Gabriel Valley cities--San Marino and Temple City--said they, too, are having trouble finding uses for their Proposition A funds.

Bus Pads Built

San Marino City Manager Allen Stephenson said Rapid Transit District buses provide his city with all the public transportation it needs. The only use San Marino has found for its Proposition A money is the expenditure of $100,000 to build "bus pads," concrete paving at bus stops to protect roadways from the wear and tear of heavy RTD buses.

In fact, San Marino has so little need of transit assistance that it has "sold" $100,000 of its Proposition A money to the city of Torrance for $60,000 in unrestricted money, Stephenson said. Torrance, which runs a bus system, needs more local transit money than Proposition A provides. San Marino will use the unrestricted $60,000 to improve street lights.

In Temple City, meanwhile, City Manager Karl Koski said, "We've accumulated funds for which we have no foreseeable use." The city will receive $274,931 for public transportation this year and spend $57,600, Koski said.

By June, Koski said, Temple City will have accumulated half a million dollars for non-existent transit needs.

No Need for Service

Koski said he could invent a transit program just to use the money, but he sees no point, for example, in running a bus around town that nobody would ride. The city already provides dial-a-ride transportation for the elderly and handicapped. The city also is spending $8,000 this year to transport handicapped Temple City residents to Pasadena City College and to transport recreational groups. The city has studied a general dial-a-ride program and fixed-route buses, but has not substantiated a need for the services, Koski said.

Hill said that a fund swap, such as the one worked out between San Marino and Torrance, is one solution for cities with surplus Proposition A funds. She said the county Transportation Commission staff is working with cities to suggest other alternatives, such as developing park-and-ride lots for commuters, installing bus pads and subsidizing taxi service.

Voters approved Proposition A in 1980, but court challenges delayed allocation of funds until the 1982-83 fiscal year. Cities may accumulate funds for only three years, Hill said, and that means the 1982-83 allocation must be spent by 1985-86.

35% for Rail System

Cities receive one-fourth of the sales tax revenue from Proposition A. Most of the remainder has been going to the RTD and other bus lines to subsidize fares, but 35% will be reserved for rail transit starting in July.

In Covina, Miller concedes that the city is thinking of starting a shopper shuttle bus line--mainly because the money is there to spend.

Covina will receive $331,000 in Proposition A revenue this year, adding to half a million dollars already in the bank. It will spend $93,000, mostly to subsidize taxi fares for the elderly and handicapped, the only residents of the city who have expressed a need for public transportation, Miller noted.

Miller said the city is looking at other transit projects, including the shuttle to serve shoppers, but unless it can find a worthwhile purpose, it may wind up returning money to the county Transportation Commission.

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