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Elected Local Officials and RTD Responsibility

January 24, 1987

With regard to the article on public transit and the Legislature (Jan. 14), I must comment on the paragraph that reports that members of the County Board of Supervisors and other local political leaders have blasted the RTD and have demanded changes, but that legislators and aides say there is little that local officials can do about it.

That is absolutely not true! The Board of Supervisors and the mayor control a solid majority of the seats on the RTD board (and on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission), and by calling on the Legislature to bail them out of the present mess they are publicly admitting that they can't do their job!

Of course it is very handy for them to place all the blame on the RTD board and general manager, for those people do appear to have been very lax, but who really is responsible? The 1964 statutes, which established the Southern California Rapid Transit District, provide that five out of the 11 seats on the board are to be filled by the Board of Supervisors or their appointees and two of the seats are to be filled by the mayor. This gives our most powerful local politicians a majority of 7 to 4, and in case of need I would imagine that the supervisors just might be able to have a little influence on at least two of the other four (who are elected officials from other cities).

The same situation exists on the County Transportation Commission. These board/commission members have the authority to make whatever changes they deem necessary, and those who are appointees of the supervisors or the mayor can be replaced at any time if they don't follow orders.

If there has been any doubt that the existing statutes dealing with transit in Los Angeles County are inadequate, it ought to be clear now! Three members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor were in office when the 1964 legislation creating the RTD and the 1976 statutes setting up the transportation commission were passed, and you can rest assured that both had their blessing.

The commission statutes duplicate some of the responsibilities already assigned to the RTD, which, of course, further confuses the situation. The principal fault with these pieces of legislation is that they assigned responsibility but did not provide for direct funding. That is a sure-fire way to guarantee no progress.

That is ironic too, because the main reason for creating the RTD was that its predecessor agency, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (also a "child" of our local politicians) was that it had not made any progress and it didn't have any direct funding either. This same mistake has now been made three times!

That evidence of local funding is a necessity is borne out by the fact that the federal and state funding for rapid transit was not provided until after the approval of Proposition A on the 1980 ballot--the half-cent sales tax for bus and rail transit. If such funding authority had been granted in the 1964 statutes, the first two or three segments of our regional rapid transit system would have been in and running by this time at a fraction of the currently estimated cost. Steps must be taken, and very soon, to offset at least some of the cost of the delay!

Now that our local politicians have admitted that they can't do anything about the situation they helped create, the state Legislature has the perfect opportunity to rectify the present sad state of affairs. Creating an additional agency, as the mayor has suggested, would only result in increased expense and make coordination even more difficult. Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) is on the right track in envisioning a single, powerful transit agency that would combine the RTD and the County Transportation Commission, and providing for the members of the new board to be elected "at large." That way there will be no one-on-one relationship with any of the cities or supervisorial districts and the new board members will be directly responsible to the people and the Legislature, not to any local politicians.

The combined agency must, this time, be given the authority to increase the existing half-cent (Proposition A) sales tax, or the gas tax in this county, but only if required in order to match federal and state funds for construction of our rail transit system. We have a sewer tax on our water bills to pay for additions to that system, so don't tell me something similar can't be done for transit! I also suggest that the top management of the combined agency be headed by a chief executive officer and two general managers, one for transit operations (both bus and rail), and one for transit design and construction; so doing will insure proper coordination, concentration of attention and accountability.

RICHARD GALLAGHER

Los Angeles

Gallagher served as chief engineer of the RTD from 1967 through 1974. In 1975 he was designated as manager/chief engineer of Metro Rail Project and served until his retirement in March, 1983.

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