Attendees at Thursday's board meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority got a treat: a public spat between Los Angeles County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky that ended when Yaroslavsky walked out.
His exit came after he had earlier described Molina's words as "selfish nonsense."
At the root of the dispute were two items: rail safety and Measure R, the proposal to raise the sales tax by half a cent in Los Angeles County to pay for transit and freeway projects. Yaroslavsky is for Measure R and Molina is against it, saying the $30-billion to $40-billion spending plan was poorly conceived.
The fight began as the board began discussing whether to pay for about $5 million in safety improvements for Metrolink, the commuter rail agency involved in last month's deadly crash with a freight train in Chatsworth.
Molina introduced an amendment to have the MTA start installing four-quadrant crossing gates at every place on the Eastside where the Gold Line will cross a street. The line, which is under construction and scheduled to open next year, will mostly be controlled by traffic signals -- so there are no gates at most crossings, a typical arrangement.
Yaroslavsky, citing the potential expense of gates, asked that the item be reviewed by an MTA committee, since this was the first time the issue had been raised in recent memory.
Molina didn't like that, saying the Gold Line should have been a full subway and accused Yaroslavsky of killing that project.
"I get tired of being shortchanged on the Eastside on some basic stuff," Molina said. "If this board can't move forward on . . . safety, I'm shocked."
Yaroslavsky wrote the measure that was approved by voters in 1998 to prevent the MTA from using sales tax revenues for subway tunneling. So the Gold Line is a light-rail line with a 1.7-mile tunnel under Boyle Heights.
"Supervisor Molina, you and every other member of the board voted for this line," Yaroslavsky replied. "You voted for it. . . . Don't make this a 'holier than thou' safety issue."
He added: "I have a right to be as nasty as everyone else. . . . I have no problem with this. . . . But don't paint everyone with the brush of evil."
Ultimately, the board decided to find out how much it would cost to install the gates.
Fast-forward to a discussion on whether the MTA can use its money for an informational campaign about Measure R.
The board had approved a measure at its July meeting -- Molina abstained -- to put Measure R on the ballot and gave permission to send a flier to voters and to pick up more than $8 million in election-related expenses.
Once the mailings started, Molina complained, saying she was unaware that the board had OKd spending the money.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is chairman of the MTA board, then directed the agency to stop the mailings. But Molina on Thursday wanted to take a formal vote on the matter.
What followed was a prolonged argument between Molina and Yaroslavsky -- with each talking over the other -- about Robert's Rules of Order and whether the fliers were authorized.
"This is selfish nonsense," Yaroslavsky told Molina, and threatened to walk out -- which he did a short time later.
The board voted against Molina's motion. It was a moot point, of course, since the MTA already had stopped the mailings.
Measure R or Aargh?
OK, Westsiders, here's your chance to defend yourselves.
Opponents of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase for road and transit projects, complain that too much of its $30 billion to $40 billion in revenue would be spent to benefit your neighborhoods -- and that not enough would go to helping other L.A. County areas that would foot a chunk of the bill.
Critics note that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Subway to the Sea proposal gets the most Measure R money.
Despite that, the campaign for Measure R now has released four television ads, none of which mention the word subway.
Proponents seem to be treating the word as if it were Kryptonite.
So, Westsiders, if you think Measure R is not weighted unfairly in your favor, here's your chance to explain why.
Shoot me an e-mail explaining in graphic detail -- no profanity, please -- just how bad traffic is in your neck of the woods. Are there times in the day you dare not head for work or the grocery store? Are there streets you avoid at all costs? Or is life on the roads around your home just a bowl of cherries?
If I like what I get, I'll post them on The Times' Bottleneck Blog.