No Trains for You: Gold Line Stops at Azusa

It was a cliché of the B grade westerns of my youth. The railroad was a-coming, and where the tracks were laid meant prosperity for the town that got them and ghost town status for the berg they bypassed. In the movies, our white-hatted hero would uncover nefarious dealings between the railroad and the the bosses of the neighboring town. Bribes were offered and taken. After a shootout at the pass with the bad guys and the dynamiting of the trestle across the canyon, the bad guys would be rounded up, the railroad's directors would come clean, and the hero's town would get its train and be saved.

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Tell that to Claremont. Metro (aka the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) bluntly informed Claremont and other cities along the route of the Gold Line eastward from Azusa that there will be no trains for them until long after 2050. Representatives of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments heard the bad news from MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy himself, "Some of you are going to think I am a monster for saying this," he said. "The Gold Line is funded to Azusa. Period."

Art Leahy's full stop means no hope for the next foothill phase of the Gold Line, but Metro itself hopes to get another $3.7 billion if Measure R funding is extended. The agency's board of directors voted 10-3 on Thursday (05/28/2012) to put the transit sales tax back on the ballot. If the measure to extend the tax passes in November, Metro will borrow against future revenue to begin building the Purple Line subway to Westwood and the Gold Line to South El Monte or maybe Whittier.

These and other Metro projects, say San Gabriel Valley cities, unjustly favor other parts of the county over theirs and unfairly pit their residents against those that Metro will favor with more and better transit options. State Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) has called on Metro to fund for the Gold Line to Claremont. So have Congress members Judy Chu (D-El Monte), Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood), and Grace Napolitano (D-Santa Fe Springs).

In addition to the extension of the Gold Line to South El Monte and the Purple Line to Westwood, Metro will spend current and anticipated Measure R revenue on the Regional Connector under downtown, a transit link to LAX, and a Green Line extension into the South Bay, along with freeway improvements and development work on additional transit corridors.

All of these have the vocal support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who hopes to rebuild his tattered reputation and his political future with the start of charismatic projects like the Purple Line subway. Villaraigosa is termed out off office next year.

Campaign fundraising, development, and transit are so inextricably tied together that every transit decision -- even to the placement of a bus stop -- can be leveraged to benefit friends and shut out those who aren't.

The mayor's support for L.A.-centric transit isn't just a matter of skewing which projects get funded first. Under SB 375 and AB 32, new residential and commercial development will preferentially go where transit goes. By building out rail corridors in L.A. decades before light rail comes to Claremont or Montclair or the Ontario Airport, Metro is picking which property owners and developers will be winners and which will not, just like the railroads did in the Old West.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focusblog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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If the San Gabriel valley receiving an extended rail line after the first billion dollar line underperformed is a sign of being politically sidelined, what does that make the San Fernando Valley who were given buses while suffering the worst traffic in America?

The latest MTA report for the SFV has them hat in hand going to private companies asking them to build infrastructure in exchange for tolls. SFV tax dollars must have been needed elsewhere. SGV seems to be doing just fine with a tax payer funded extended rail line, even if it doesn't go all the way into another county.