Our Op-Ed In Our Weekly

Posted by Fix Expo Team

Our press release on the firing of Gloria Jeff ran in this week's Our Weekly: Was Gloria Jeff Fired for Opposing the Rail Line?

The short explanation is that on Thursday September 27th, leaders representing 8 different homeowners associations, 5 community organizations, and 2 neighborhood councils protested the MTA proposal to add $18 million dollars to the Expo Line budget for the OPTIONAL USC station at Trousdale and track improvements on the portion of the Expo Line which it is to share with the Blue Line. (audio to come) We have consistently and vocally requested additional funding or alternative construction options so that the Expo Line can be made safe with grade separation, and offered our organizational support for any and all efforts to pursue additional funding. Each and every time we're told by Expo Authority staff and board members, "We don't have the money." (Incidentally, they never say, "We can't find the money.")

Nonetheless, Metro, with it's 3 billion dollar annual budget and $7 billion dollars in assets, found $18 million for the station and track improvements with a vote that passed almost unanimously, and received support from Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, who represents all of the South LA schools and Councilman Bernard Parks, whose district includes 3800-student Foshay Learning Center which is within 50 feet of the tracks. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of our elected official's misplaced priorities and lack of concern for the safety of South LA children.

So how does Jeff fit into all of this?

Prior to the vote, during the public comment period, we submitted a packet to the board members and press that included 16 of the numerous smoking memos we've uncovered illustrating internal Metro/Expo and agency concern and outright opposition to the predictable deadly unsafe design of the Expo Line. At the top of the packet was Gloria Jeff's letter to the MTA/Expo Authority regarding the Exposition Park plans and designs at Exposition Park, dated just one week after the MTA submitted their crossing applications to the regulatory agency responsible for approving all rail crossings. In the letter, Jeff says, the event management plan would lead to "major gridlock," is "unsafe for pedestrians," and is "unacceptable to LADOT." The next day Jeff she was fired for undisclosed reasons.

Firing Jeff because of or in part due to her refusal to tow the company line on Expo would be completely consistent with the damage control strong arm tactics Metro/Expo have employed.

Update: link, with more on that to come.

In case the link above doesn't work, continue reading...

Was LADOT head Gloria Jeff fired for opposing the rail line?

At last Thursday morning's MTA board meeting, leaders of South Los Angeles homeowners' associations, neighborhood councils and school alumni groups, along with child advocates protested the unsafe design of the Expo Line through their majority-minority communities.  Among the "smoking memos" they submitted to the board supporting their belief that the light rail line is not designed to operate safely through South L.A. was a letter from LADOT General Manager Gloria Jeff to Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe.  In the May 18, 2007 letter, Jeff states that the MTA plan to operate the Expo Line during Exposition Park/Coliseum events would lead to "major gridlock," are fatally flawed, "not safe for pedestrians," and "not acceptable to LADOT."  According to the LA Times, Thursday night Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told his transportation chief to submit her resignation by Friday afternoon or she would be fired.  Jeff was terminated on Friday for undisclosed reasons.

The Jeff letter was sent to Thorpe just days after the Expo Line Construction Authority, a subsidiary of the MTA that has been contracted to design and build the Expo Line, submitted their intersection designs for approval to the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency responsible for the safety of all railroad crossings.  The CPUC review process allows community groups to protest design applications if there are safety concerns and enter into a legal proceeding that can delay rail projects for up to 2 years to allow the designs to be more heavily scrutinized.

Expo Communities United, a collaborative of several South LA homeowners' associations protested all of the crossing applications, believing the Expo Line will be more dangerous than the MTA's Blue Line - the deadliest light rail line in the country.  Several large schools and parks are within 50 feet of the proposed Expo Line tracks, and traffic congestion, population density and other demographics present more intense conditions than the unsafe crossings on the Blue Line, which have resulted in 88 deaths and over 795 accidents to date.

In their opening and reply briefs in the CPUC protest proceedings, ECU cited Jeff's letter along with other critical documents from LADOT staff, all of which were provided to ECU by the Expo Authority through a Public Records Act request.

"We've uncovered numerous memos from engineers and staff that reveal a lot of internal criticism of the Expo Line," said Damien Goodmon, a rail transit advocate and coordinator of the Citizen's Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line, of which ECU is a lead member.

Goodmon continued, "These bureaucrats are saying something completely different behind agency doors than they are in the public.  It's their Baghdad Bob communications strategy: regardless of how bad things look, regardless of how many kids the staff thinks will be killed, they tell the public things are under control and the Expo Line is safe.  I can't help thinking Expo Authority gave us the letter, which they knew we'd use, as part of their effort to get the Mayor to fire Jeff, a vocal critic who refused to tow the company line."

"Clearly they're sending a signal: don't mess with Expo," said ECU founding member and Baldwin Neighborhood Homeowners Association President Carol Tucker.  Referencing an August 14, 2007 letter CPUC Commissioner Timothy Simon sent to seven local legislators in response to the politicians' concerns about the CPUC's time consuming review process, Ms. Tucker said, "They're already pressuring Simon to approve the defective unsafe street-level rail crossing designs."  In the letter, Simon, the Commissioner assigned to the Expo Line case, advised the legislators, "I have asked all of our staff including, but not limited to Administrative Law Judge Koss, to expedite this process.  Again, I consider this of the highest priority."  Tucker expressed concern about politicians interfering with the decision-making process of judges and a state regulatory agency.

"I'm just wondering who's next," Tucker said.  "A lot of those critical statements and documents are from staff people that are a lot easier to terminate than a person as high-profile as Gloria Jeff."

The removal of Jeff by Mayor Villaraigosa hasn't deterred the community coalition.  Instead they intend to ramp up their efforts to shine a light on the Expo Line problems so they can be addressed.

"Today, we're submitting another discovery request to the Expo Authority and MTA for all communication between them and Jeff and LADOT," said founding ECU member and West Adams Neighborhood Council Public Safety Chair Clint Simmons.  Mr. Simmons continued, "The South L.A. community is being railroaded here with this Expo Line.  They know that by operating the train at street-level they're going to kill kids and the few people like Jeff, with the courage to say it are being thrown out.  But we're going to get to the bottom of this.  We're going to continue speaking for the silenced engineers; we're going to fix the Expo Line for the safety of our children and preservation of our community."
  • The Dorsey High School Alumni Association has invited the Citizen's Campaign to Fix the Expo Line to discuss the Expo Line problems and solutions at a community safety forum for parents, alumni and community members at Dorsey High School Auditorium, 3537 Farmdale Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90016, on Oct. 17, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.. All local elected officials as well as the MTA Executive/Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe have been invited.