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Verbal Brawl Erupts Over Metro Rail : Rep. Fiedler Tangles With L.A. Officials After Senate Hearing on Funds

May 02, 1985|PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A verbal brawl over Los Angeles' proposed subway erupted outside a Senate hearing room Wednesday after California Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge) blasted the $3.3-billion project as a "turkey" that will "rob some of the poorest in my community."

Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Tom Houston angrily called Fiedler "a liar" and Southern California transit officials accused her of grandstanding before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on transportation in an effort to promote a campaign for the Senate in 1986.

Fiedler responded in kind, snapping at the entourage of officials who were here lobbying for an additional $150 million in federal funds for the subway: "If you guys spent more time administering your bus system, rather than catering to downtown business interests, the entire population would be better off."

Later, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who attended the hearing but missed the raucous confrontation, called Fiedler's charges "a fraud."

"She has not given us a straight story from the first time she ever opened her mouth on this issue of Metro Rail," Bradley told reporters as he headed for a companion House hearing to plead for money to help begin construction on the 18-mile subway's first phase.

Los Angeles officials made the trip here in a last-ditch effort to persuade legislators to provide more money than is allocated in President Reagan's budget, which would give the city only $65 million of the $150 million the officials say they need to begin work on the subway project.

Fiedler Stands Alone

Following a series of private meetings with key senators and representatives, Bradley said he was "optimistic" about Los Angeles' chances of receiving the money, but he would not give details.

The Senate and House hearings were on the requests of a number of cities seeking start-up money for rail construction projects.

In the hearings, Fiedler strongly supported Reagan Administration efforts to scuttle the Los Angeles subway to help trim the federal budget deficit.

In her opposition to the project, she stood alone among California's 45 House members and two senators. Several, including California Sens. Pete Wilson and Alan Cranston--against whom Fiedler may run in 1986--enthusiastically backed Los Angeles' request for funds.

Alleging growing opposition to the project, Fiedler testified that "last month the voters of Los Angeles, in their first opportunity to vote directly on the issue of the subway, rejected a proposal to tax homeowners for the project, by a margin of 73%."

Houston, terming the statement "an out-and-out lie," said the "non-controversial" ballot proposition "called for exempting all property owners from paying for Metro Rail. . . . Everybody favored it."

(Actually, the proposition prohibited city officials from levying special taxes on homeowners who live near the subway route.)

Fiedler also charged that "the subway lobby of Los Angeles proposes" to rob the poor by taking money for Metro Rail "right out of the pockets of the handicapped, the students, the elderly and those most in need of transit."

She explained: "Thirty-five cents of every bus ride, starting this July, will be diverted into the subway so that the rich corporations can develop their own property. Instead of keeping existing fares low for buses, they're playing reverse Robin Hood for their own good."

Jacki Bacharach, head of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, said that, in fact, county voters in 1980 had approved a proposition calling for a half-percentage-point sales tax increase, with 35% of the revenues to be used expressly for construction of rail transit systems.

"To run around correcting her lies is ridiculous," Bacharach said.

Fiedler protested that estimated subway costs had soared to $250 million a mile from an original $100 million.

Nick Patsaouras, president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, said that $250 million a mile was only the front-end cost for the first phase of construction and that the long-term average would be $180 million, in line with other cities' rail lines.

Disputes Ridership Estimates

Fiedler also charged that ridership estimates have been "inflated beyond belief," citing a Los Angeles Times study that said estimates were 20% high. An RTD official said the independent consultant cited by The Times had concluded that the project was feasible despite the lower estimates.

Fiedler charged further that methane gas from 800 capped oil wells, one of which exploded in March, injuring 22 people, pose an unacceptable danger to the subway. But transit officials responded that safe construction techniques and tunnel sheathing had been developed to reduce hazards sufficiently.

The deficit reduction package pending in the Senate, if adopted, would seriously damage Los Angeles' chances of getting the funds needed to keep the subway alive. The package calls for allocating funds to various cities on a population-based formula, rather than giving Los Angeles $150 million of the approximately $400 million expected to be made available for new rail construction nationwide.

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