How divisive policy harms public transportation

...and how two simple game-changing solutions can change that.

Funding: The state and federal government should help both Orange and Riverside County pay down the toll debt for the 91 Express Lanes now under construction through Corona and pay for seamless HOV connections to carpool and transit hubs. Could a stronger local market economy expedite progress and infrastructure for future rapid-express bus service?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It's no question that we live in a polarized society. Special interests have pretty much taken over the state legislature. Common-sense solutions to solve our transportation problems are generally being ignored or stonewalled with all kinds of government red tape. Calls to reform CEQA and other laws that either slow down progress or drive up costs generally go unanswered. Pandering to the lawyer and labor union lobby could very well be the chief cause.

That's why expanding transportation infrastructure projects is often stuck in the slow lane or scaled down. That's likely why developers generally are reluctant to address the housing shortage statewide at or near existing job hubs like West LA and the Irvine Business Complex which drives up living expenses like rent to immoral levels. That's probably why the state is reluctant to pay down the toll bond debt for the 91 and pay for a connection to the North Main Corona transit hub and park & ride lots, which would provide the necessary infrastructure for future rapid-express bus service for the 91 corridor with potential 24/7 service including night owl runs.

To be clear, I'm not here to bash attorneys and the unions. In fact, both sectors are needed. We rely on people with the skills to interpret law, offer advice on complicated matters and our Constitution calls for an impartial judicial system whenever criminal or civil disputes arise and the right to be represented. Workplace abuse during the Industrial Revolution clearly show that workers must have the right to collectively bargain for livable wages and safe environments.

But both of these sectors have attained unprecedented powers in the State Capitol and the bills that come out the legislature tell the truth.

Such broken policy affects every public works project. The Perris Valley Line project for example was a victim of a trivial environmental lawsuit. The fiscally broke City of Wildomar lost money after fighting a CEQA case filed against a state-mandated housing document that was found to be frivolous and tossed out by the judge. And the endless layers of red tape on such projects drives up costs well beyond what the private sector finds acceptable by substantial margins. Just try to compare the per-mile cost between the XpressWest and California High Speed Rail projects and you'll see why the latter has received the negative press. Worse yet--If this divisive lawmaking pattern continues unchecked, the state's economic picture will be in dire trouble as businesses and people have the right to relocate elsewhere. That will without doubt, negate our transit networks.

The state is in desperate need of unified solutions. We need fair answers that will benefit the good of the people that those in power simply cannot ignore or stonewall. Here are two simple game-changers that will greatly help the state which will in fact provide additional resources for the lawyers and unions. There should be no excuse on Earth for the legislature to ignore these solutions:

Game-Changer I: Promote policies that will better allow the private sector to grow the market economy

If look at the major polls, this topic remains a top concern for working Americans right up there with global terrorism. As you may know, a better free market increases the number of private-sector jobs for the region. If employers grow and have to compete for workers in order to profit, working salaries go up. That's especially true if a competing firm wants the worker. Plus, in a healthy economy, the government takes in more tax revenue with the economic growth which will help pay for improved public services and capital. The government unions should back this because as staff responsibilities and duties go up, so can the number of government union positions and their wages. The improved state of the economy ensures that these raises and added public jobs are funded without tax hikes or service cuts. What special interest would not support a statewide boost to the economy?

Plus, more businesses will rely on more attorneys for advice which should warrant support from the lawyer lobby. If the attorneys knew that they'll be getting a sweet deal with a better economy and more clients, they just might be willing to accept some fair CEQA reform which would finally rid the state of frivolous and trivial environmental lawsuits.

Will somebody in the state legislature please take the lead on this?

Game-Changer II: Expand the role of community volunteers in the public sector

The concept of this solution is simple: Improve government services and worker productivity in a fiscally conservative way. How so?

Many churches and non-profit groups rely on such unpaid help. My writings for this blog and The Transit Coalition for example are unpaid; I post these talking points because I want A Better Inland Empire, and so should you.

People volunteer because they have the will to serve their community. Since public labor unions are keen to call for raises for their employees, government agencies should also assign greater responsibilities to those receiving them, especially those in the $100k club, which continues to grow. That would include overseeing community volunteers so that basic services don't fall into decline if agencies have to reassign or restructure departments to pay for these generous raises as demanded by the unions. That's another way to ensure huge salary hikes don't result in public service reductions.

Keep in mind the entire government system is owned by We the People. You and I own the mass transit system and the infrastructure that it uses with the exception of the Class-One freight rail lines. That means community-minded volunteers should be able to take better ownership the infrastructure and services. California's Adopt-A-Highway program is a terrific example with the community landscaping services and litter and graffiti removal programs. Private sector groups partner with the state and provide the manpower to complete these basic maintenance tasks of our sprawling freeway system.

But why not create similar initiatives like Adopt-A-Station where transit ambassadors can help riders board the right buses and trains while the paid security guard provides the oversight and armed protection who, by the way, is thoroughly trained in protecting the people and property? Like Adopt-A-Highway, the private sector would provide the manpower and the organizations would be permitted to have marketing material available for the riders.

What about Adopt-A-DMV-Office where similar ambassadors can help the public use self-serve kiosks to conduct basic transactions such as vehicle registration, snapping the pictures for the licenses and ID cards, updating people on their wait times, directing traffic in the parking lot, and keeping the public lobby area clean and maintained. Businesses like smog check garages and car insurance providers would likely love to organize such manpower in return for a sign that reads "DMV Courtesy Services Provided by...". Paid DMV employees would continue to handle the complex tasks like testing, answering hard questions, security, and managing the office. That could very well speed up the lines and allow the public to take better ownership of their local DMV office simply because we all own it.

How about expanding the volunteer's role in law enforcement through a wholesale expansion of reserve deputies, citizen action patrol, youth explorer, neighborhood watch, and working with restorative justice organizations and ministries that mentor with troubled youth and young adults. President Obama's My Brother Keeper program should be a part of this campaign.

Again, paid officers will continue to handle all of the difficult responsibilities as well as all serious and violent crimes; the volunteers could serve as the eyes and ears of the department. Reserves would have full peace officer authorities; they will be undergo the same hiring standards and academy training as paid officers, be armed, have the authority to arrest and issue citations, and can be tasked to patrol and enforce simple issues like quality of life and traffic laws.

President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Program
They would be supported by the volunteer community action patrol and neighborhood watch teams. That would reduce speeding, red light running, intersection blocking, cell phone violations, and carpool/HOT lane cheating in an eye blink. Did I mention a reduction of traffic collisions on the freeways? Plus, under this fiscally conservative system, law enforcement productivity would increase to the point where the criminal gangs in San Bernardino, Riverside, Moreno Valley, and even South LA would be out of business, lives would be saved and our transit stations free from other illegal activities like drug sales and vandalism.

All of this will greatly improve government productivity which reduces the stress and workload of the paid workers. Plus, it could allow the governments to save big money on costs without jeopardizing jobs or salaries. The unions should back this.

The truth of the matter is there are several ways for the state legislature to pander to both the people and the groups that paid for their election campaigns. The state government really needs to start solving our problems in an intelligent fashion. Allowing the private sector to improve the economy and expanding the community's role in public service through volunteering are two game-changers that will make California golden once more. And the special interest groups that reject such fair policies for their own selfish gain should take note: Californians of whom own the system have the right to relocate and take their assets with them if nothing is done to correct the problem, and history will record that.