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Common Sense Didn't Ride This 'Money Train'

NEWS ANALYSIS

January 15, 1998|TED ROHRLICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The theory is . . . if you're pregnant, you're going to have the baby. [Likewise] if you begin construction, you're going to finish it," the lobbyist said.

As a strategy, that meant it made no sense to wait to start a project until the MTA had accumulated enough funds to finish it.

But as the federal government rejected MTA plans to keep going on all of its rail projects as fiscally irresponsible and froze the agency's federal funds, Riordan had to take drastic action.

He brought in a former law firm colleague, 70-year-old corporate turnaround expert Julian Burke, as a $15,000-a-month chief executive officer. Burke's recommendation was to finish the subway to North Hollywood but stop work indefinitely on the Eastside, Mid-City and Pasadena lines while staff reevaluates them and ways to fund them.

Restarting complex projects once they are stopped is extremely difficult, transit experts say.

However, the MTA board had no choice but to go along with Burke, said transit lobbyist Jim McDermott. "I think the public and the Legislature are looking at the MTA now, saying, 'Look, you've gone through several CEOs. This man has a reputation for turning organizations around. If he can't do the job, maybe we need to get rid of the MTA.' "

It wasn't entirely smooth sailing Wednesday for Burke.

Backers of continuing work on the Eastside and Pasadena lines knew they did not have enough support to defeat his plan, but they did succeed in requiring him to report back to the board in six months or less "on any feasible funding options" to restart the projects.

An effort is already well underway to raise money privately to help finish the partly built Pasadena line, and some officials are optimistic that that effort will succeed.

But there is no similar hope for the subways.

"With the most optimistic views of funding from Washington," Riordan said, "we can't build this subway extension for a number of years, so to continue building it now is virtually wasting money."

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