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State Panel to Discuss L.A. Subway Problems : Transit: Senate committee will meet Nov. 2 in Los Angeles to examine the troubled project. Federal funding has already been halted.

October 13, 1994|DAVID WILLMAN and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Saying that state government needs to better protect California taxpayers' investment in the Los Angeles subway, the chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee has scheduled a hearing to examine problems with the project's construction and management.

The hearing is the latest outside inquiry into the project, which already has come under scrutiny from the federal government and Los Angeles city officials. Federal officials last week said they would not provide any more money for tunneling--halted since Aug. 18--until they are convinced that local officials can competently manage subway construction.

The state has provided about $250 million, the largest source of funding after the federal government and local sales tax revenues, for the multibillion-dollar project.

"The state has an indispensable interest in how, and in what manner, the money is spent," said Sen. Quentin L. Kopp, the committee chairman. "There's no question that it's alarming to observe the errors that have already been made in the construction."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he sees no need for the state hearing but expects the transit agency to cooperate.

"We're trying to put our own house in order," he said.

Kopp, an independent from San Francisco, said the ouster Tuesday of the Los Angeles subway project's construction president does not go far enough. "I'm very much concerned," Kopp said, adding that "exposure" through public hearings can help remedy what he sees as systemic problems.

The Senate hearing will be Nov. 2 in Los Angeles. Kopp said he scheduled the hearing at the request of Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), a member of the transportation committee.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said he also plans to quiz MTA officials at his next committee hearing Oct. 24 in Los Angeles.

"Since the Legislature created the MTA, we certainly have an obligation to follow through with oversight," said Hayden, who attended the MTA board meeting this week.

Hayden and Katz have threatened to introduce legislation that would abolish the MTA's subsidiary agency, the Rail Construction Corp., if the MTA fails to do so.

At the request of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who sits on the MTA board but is vacationing in Europe, transit directors postponed a vote this week on whether to dissolve the subsidiary. The Rail Construction Corp. was formed to take over subway construction in 1990 from the former Southern California Rapid Transit District.

The RCC has been criticized as being too receptive to Metro Rail contractors. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, among others, has said that the construction corporation needlessly dilutes the authority of the MTA board, of which she is a member.

One former board member of the construction corporation, James Pott, said in an interview Wednesday that he agrees with Molina.

"I see no reason for the continuation of the RCC," said Pott, retired chief engineer for the city of Long Beach.

Defenders of the construction corporation, including Councilman Richard Alatorre, said that final decision-making authority always has rested with the MTA.

"I don't know what else we want in terms of accountability that we don't have now," said Alatorre, an MTA board member.

Based on the shortcomings that have come to light on the project, Kopp said, the MTA should fire its construction inspection firm, Parsons-Dillingham. The firm has defended its performance and last week alleged that the construction contractor building the troubled tunnels along Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue deliberately concealed defective work from inspectors.

Franklin E. White, the MTA's chief executive officer, has announced that he wants to phase out Parsons-Dillingham from its role in supervising the extension of the subway to Universal City and North Hollywood and is evaluating whether termination is warranted.

Kopp said more sweeping action is needed.

"Temporizing, in my experience, is not successful," Kopp said, referring to his tenure as a board member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, which oversaw the building of that region's rapid-transit system.

White was expected today to announce an interim replacement for Edward McSpedon, whom he ousted Tuesday as RCC president.

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