SACRAMENTO — A landmark bill to abolish the RTD and create for Los Angeles County a new superagency to run bus service and to plan and build transit systems of the future won its toughest fight Wednesday with passage in the state Senate where it had been bottled up for weeks.
The 21-13 vote sends the measure to the Assembly, where it is expected to be approved. There has been no indication whether Gov. George Deukmejian will sign or veto the bill. However, two of the governor's key Republican allies in Los Angeles--County Supervisors Deane Dana and Michael Antonovich--are expected to urge his support.
The bill was in trouble in the Senate as recently as last Friday when it was voted down, but after a series of major concessions to critics, including Mayor Tom Bradley, supporters coaxed through one final amendment Wednesday night and rammed the bill through the upper house with little debate two hours before midnight.
"I think this is the ball game," an elated Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) co-author of the bill, exclaimed immediately after the vote. The other author, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), called it "a major step" toward solving Los Angeles' transportation problems.
On Jan. 1, a new Metropolitan Transportation Authority would begin consolidation of the Southern California Rapid Transit District with the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.
One objective of the bill is to bring clearly into the voters' line of vision those who are responsible for solving traffic congestion and transit problems. For the first time, prominent elected officials, including Bradley and the five county supervisors, would be required to personally serve on the county's transportation panel. Historically, the governing boards of RTD and the county Transportation Commission have been dominated by non-elected, little-known political surrogates of the mayor and supervisors.
The successful amendment that preceded Senate passage would ease restrictions on campaign fund-raising by members of the new transportation super board. Members, however, would be required to publicly disclose campaign donations of $100 or more before voting on any matter involving a contributor. Critics argued that the amendment weakened current state law. It was narrowly approved on a vote of 18 to 16.
In addition to shaking up management of the RTD bus system, which carries 1.4 million passengers a day, the reorganization also is intended to centralize now-scattered responsibilities for planning highways and building the county's proposed multi-billion dollar, 150-mile commuter rail system. Included in the system would be the Metro Rail subway and a larger network of trolley lines. The legislation was prompted by management lapses at RTD, doubts of RTD's ability to build Metro Rail efficiently and concerns about overlapping jurisdictions.
The assumption--though not borne out by any detailed study--is that one large transportation agency will be more efficient and manageable than two.
"You've got to simplify the approach (to solving transportation problems) in Los Angeles if you want it to work," said Peter Fielding, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Irvine. Fielding, who has studied transit systems in the world's major cities, helped shape the legislation and is optimistic that commuters will benefit. A powerful board of elected and presumably responsive officials, Fielding said, should be able to move the agency in directions that will help control rising transit costs, permitting improved service and fewer fare hikes.
"For the first time there will be one group of people making all the decisions on highways, transit systems and buses," said Katz. "(If) those people do a worse job, you can vote them off the board."
Critics of the reorganization bill, however, point out that the faces on the MTA board will change, but the political interests they reflect will be a mirror image of what is already represented on the county's transportation boards.
"The issue is not who sits on the board," said Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles.) "It's 35 m.p.h. average speeds on the freeways. . . . I'm trying to ask myself is this really going to solve a problem, or just superimpose a new one."
Skeptics, implying the reorganization offers little in the way of real change, like to point out that the name of the new agency is being recycled from 25 years ago. The first MTA--the predecessor to the RTD--was created by the Legislature in an earlier transportation reform campaign.
The non-partisan legislative analyst's office has projected "unknown" potential savings from consolidation.