Mon, May

Metro’s Sepulveda Pass Transit – No Transparency, No Public Input


[This is the seventh article in a series examining whether Metro can be a trusted steward for the Sepulveda Pass Transit project.]

LA TRANSPO - The seventh of my 20 questions to Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins asked: “Why do Metro and its contractors always develop initial design concepts before talking with impacted communities? It would always seem more effective and transparent to work closely with all potentially impacted communities before developing concepts and drawing routes for transit projects – asking the communities for their concerns and inputs before the fact, rather than their comments after the fact. Metro does not do this. They instead have contractors first develop concepts and routes, and then ask communities to comment how they feel about them.”

Stephanie’s response demonstrated Metro operates in the exact way my question said they do: “In 2017, Metro initiated the planning process for the Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project specifically with public input. As a part of the Feasibility Study, Metro brought 48 ideas to the public as thought-starters that were meant to engage the public in a conversation about how to achieve the project objective: to provide a high quality, reliable transit alternative to connect the San Fernando Valley to the Westside. From June 2018 to August 2019, Metro held 10 public meetings and gathered more than 1200 public comments that were reviewed and considered.”

This is not the right way to understand community desires and concerns. This is like an architect who designs your dream house by giving you 48 ideas before asking you what you want. This is not a transparent nor effective practice, and borders on being dishonest because it assumes Metro knows what the public wants better than the public does.

An honest and transparent project steward would meet with impacted communities first and learn what they want and don’t want. For example, developers in my Sherman Oaks community initiate early communications with local organizations to discuss future ideas. They want our opinions and concerns. This early dialog fosters success and develops relationships that help projects fulfill community expectations. Metro doesn’t think like this.

Instead, as Stephanie’s answer states, Metro developed an initial smorgasbord of concepts, presented them publicly, and asked for comments. Metro maintained public comment and letter logs, but the logs never provided Metro’s disposition on any comments. Metro never answered questions, including none of the 80 that I submitted. The public waited until the next Metro meeting to learn if or how concepts evolved. This is not meaningful interaction.

The public wants to be involved in its community’s future. Yet Metro holds the public at arm’s length. If you call a Metro community relations representative, you are told there is no further information, you can’t talk to anyone else, and you must wait until the next public meeting. Are they kidding? Metro is a public agency using public funds, including more than $2 billion each year from Measure M sales taxes. Metro should want to respond to public comments and provide further information. They should realize that public outreach today means more than one-sided staged meetings with minimal information that I’ve heard many derogatorily call “dog and pony shows”.

If Metro was modern, honest, and transparent, their public outreach would include roll-up-your-sleeves workshops with community representatives. They would offer communities one-on-one participation with knowledgeable Metro staff. Such public involvement could result in great community-focused projects. Sadly, this hasn’t happened and the public struggles to learn barely anything about the Sepulveda Pass Transit project.

(Bob Anderson is a nuclear engineer with 50 years engineering and business development expertise in the aerospace and high-technology sectors. He is VP and Transportation Committee Chair of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Contact him at [email protected].)