Fearing a stalemate in Congress over transportation funding, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is looking to the Chinese government as an option to possibly save his ambitious plan to build a dozen mass-transit projects in 10 years instead of 30.
Villaraigosa said Thursday that he met with executives from China Investment Corp. in Beijing during his trip to Asia in December. The group was established in 2007 by the People's Republic of China, according to the corporation's website.
Officials with the mayor's office said the meeting was preliminary only and characterized it as "very cordial" and part of the larger trade mission of Villaraigosa's trip to Asia, which also included stops in South Korea and Japan.
David Yale, an official with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was also at the meeting, which officials said was arranged to explore alternative investment opportunities.
Villaraigosa's plan to accelerate construction of projects funded by Measure R has gained some traction in Washington, D.C., but he derided Congress in a conference call for lack of action and said it was necessary to explore other sources of funding.
"You have a Congress that's just been indifferent to cities," said Villaraigosa, speaking from Washington, where he is attending the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Villaraigosa is the group's president.
Rob Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Villaraigosa's search for infrastructure funding outside U.S. borders is part of an emerging trend.
"It's something that we see becoming more and more prominent … especially as federal resources become more and more constrained," Puentes said.
He said that the way transportation projects are funded has significantly changed and that now "everything is out on the table."
Villaraigosa plans to host a group of Asian companies in Los Angeles later this year to "finalize agreements, secure investments and create jobs here in Los Angeles," according to a news release from the mayor's office. It was unclear if members of the Chinese corporation would be on that trip.
Another possibility is asking voters during next fall's presidential election to support at least a 10-year extension of Measure R, the 30-year, half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. That could raise billions and probably accelerate construction.
Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill earlier this month that sets the stage for such a ballot measure.
"I don't quit. We're focused on the prize," Villaraigosa said.
Villaraigosa and several other California mayors also met this week with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to talk about California's faltering high-speed rail effort.
"We're going to make the case," Villaraigosa said. "If we don't build it now, we'll build it in 20 years" and it will cost more, he said.