82.1 F
San Fernando
Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

Mixed Reactions in Valley to City’s Stimulus Request

By THOM SENZEE Contributing Reporter Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa responded quickly when he was asked by the new administration, along with other big-city mayors, to submit a list of “shovel-ready” projects to be considered for federal funding through a much-anticipated economic-stimulus package. But some local business leaders are unhappy with what they see as a lack of proportional projects for the Valley. When questioning politicians about the Valley’s place on the stimulus-package totem pole, one word comes up again and again: “priorities.” “This list was not a reflection of our priorities; rather it was simply an inventory of ready-to-go projects,” said a spokesperson for the mayor. That would appear to leave open the door for potential reapportionment once the city receives the funds. Yet it is not clear if changing the list after getting the money,about $6.6 billion for the entire city, and approximately $1.4 billion for the Valley,will be permissible. For some, the problem with the ratio of Valley vs. non-Valley stimulus money is that with 39 to 43 percent of the city’s population, the region is only slated for a little more than 20 percent of the requested transportation spending, and 27 percent of the overall package. “But look, this assumes that all the projects will have the same priority,” said Congressman Brad Sherman, whose district includes much of the Valley. “If the Valley projects can be at 40 percent of the high-priority projects, then I think that’s fine.” If there just are not enough “shovel-ready” construction projects in the area that are ready to start work on right away, Sherman said, the Valley may not be eligible to get an amount of funding that is proportional to its population. The main determinant for a project’s eligibility for inclusion on the mayor’s wish-list was that it has to be ready to begin construction within 180 days. “That was the timeframe discussed by both the Obama team and the City Council,” he said. However, any and all project criteria are speculative for now, as the economic-stimulus legislation has yet to be written. Yet, some local leaders are concerned the Valley will end up underrepresented when the stimulus package is created. “I’d like to stay away from absolute population-based proportions, but with 43 percent of the population living here in the Valley, getting only 20 percent is unacceptable,” said one prominent Valley business leader, who asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this article. “The Valley is getting the shaft once again.” The fact that a prominent Valley leader, distraught by perceived inequity in potential stimulus allocations, did not want to be identified in print may say more about the mayor than the anonymous source. ” The mayor’s position of power is at its highest point to date, and we’ll have to work with him on some things coming up in the near future,” the source said. Indeed, as a member of the incoming president’s economic advisory council, Villaraigosa is assumed to have Barak Obama’s ear. It is believed the burgeoning relationship between the two men could help bring more federal resources to Los Angeles than the city has seen in more than a decade. But if the mayor’s stimulus request turns out to be reflective of his priorities for increases in federal subsidies for the city, Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, is concerned. “I think if you look at transportation in the Valley there’s a lot that we need,” Waldman said. “Twenty percent is less than half of what we deserve.” He added that studies show transportation is the number-one concern of residents and businesspeople in the Valley. If Waldman could create his own wish list for the new president Obama to consider, the top three items on it would be: extending the Red Line Metro subway train to Burbank Airport; expansion of Interstate 101 as well as the creation of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes from the West Valley to downtown along that freeway; and the addition of HOV lanes on California Highway 134. Congressman Sherman agrees more money for transportation is needed. “Citywide, we need to improve paving on the major arteries,” he said. But Congressman Sherman is sympathetic to Mayor Villaraigosa’s challenges. “He’s got a complicated job,” the congressman said, adding that some spending on the other side of the hill directly benefits the Valley. “I would not want to stand in the way of funding for the port or LAX,” he said. “That benefits us all.” But, Sherman said, the Valley can also claim city-wide import. “Whether they’ll admit it or not, westsiders do come to the Valley.” Congressman Sherman declined to give us a list of his top-three stimulus projects, saying only that he wants to see some of the money go to the Sepulveda Basin as well as general street maintenance. In fact, more than $22 million for a sports complex at the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area made the list. Councilman Dennis P. Zine, who represents much of the west Valley, voted to approve Mayor Villaraigosa’s stimulus request. “We’ll get a share,” he said. “Whether it’s a fair share or not, we’re not going to get 50 percent of the projects.” According to Councilman Zine the biggest challenge in considering the wish-list list was time. “We have a tremendous amount of projects that are ready to go throughout the city, and we’ve got some projects in my district,” he said. “But if you start ironing out those we can go forward with without much delay, you find there are fewer in the Valley at the moment.” Zine said there are reasons for that other than anti-Valley bias in the appropriations regime at City Hall. “If you look at the other side of the hill, you’ve got the airport, the harbor,you’ve got the DWP, which services the entire city. It’s a different component than the Valley, which is basically a bedroom community.” In essence, said Zine, most areas of Los Angeles south of the Valley region are more densely developed, have more infrastructure, and, accordingly, tend to have more projects that are ready to begin construction at any given moment in time. Councilman Zine’s 12th District counterpart, Councilman Greig Smith, sees further reasons why the Valley may appear to some people to be underrepresented on the list. “People in my district have the newest infrastructure in the city,” Smith said. “For instance, we’re doing a complete rebuild of the sewer system. But my district didn’t need it.” Smith said he is just happy that the city may not have to kill planned construction projects as was expected because of budget shortfalls. “(The stimulus package) is going to make a difference by keeping alive projects that were going to die,” he said, adding that he is very pleased that three of four elements of a major improvement project along the highly impacted Balboa Boulevard corridor were included on the stimulus list. Still, Smith isn’t convinced the money is as good as in the bank. “I’ll believe it when the president signs the bill, but at least we have a president who understands the problem and a Congress of the same party. Hopefully something good will come out of it.” But it is the types of projects that were listed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and supported by the city council that have some leading advocates of business in the Valley upset, as much as it is the geography. Of particular concern are projects such as $36.2 million worth of repainting for public housing. “That’s a great union gig,” said a source. “But what does that do when the job is done? If it were creating a new lane or widening a road, it would have an ongoing benefit to the entire city and businesses as well.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles