Op Ed - MTA Vote: Is Our City Stuck on Stupid?

By Blair H. Taylor

This week the MTA of Los Angeles voted 8 to 1 to award $1Billion in transportation funds to purchase new light rail cars to a Japanese company, Kinkisharyo International LLC. To be fair, there was no opportunity to really “buy American” since all three companies in final consideration were foreign. However, there were some enormous gaps in what the three vendors would do for Los Angeles and our desperately underserved regions.

All three companies are roughly the same in terms of technical competency and expertise, with marginal differences. All have successfully delivered projects of this magnitude in the United States over the past few decades. But only one, Siemens, offered a commitment to local and domestic jobs and a further commitment to localized training with Los Angeles-based facilities and partners. The Siemens proposal would have brought hundreds of more jobs to South Los Angeles than the plan by the next best competitor. However, the MTA decided it would rather ship those jobs over to Japan.

There is something happening at the MTA requiring critical attention. Enormous financial decisions are being made with scant regard to the impact on the neediest populations of the city.

At the MTA Board meeting, one woman brought police criminal tape and actually attempted to cordon-off the area where the MTA Board was seated, claiming it was a “crime scene.” Candidly, she had a very good point. As a result of the MTA decision, 500 good, and living-wage jobs – jobs paid for by the taxpayers of this region – are now going to go overseas, because the MTA totally undervalued domestic job creation as part of the bid evaluation process. And in that devaluation, the MTA devalued us all. Make no mistake, the impact and implications of the MTA vote will be staggering in the years ahead.

It is unfathomable how anyone, save a resident of Tokyo, could ship 500 jobs overseas when this country is still in the midst of the worst economic malaise since the Great Depression. The jobs would have been based in South LA, an area where unemployment rates for young African American males exceeds 35 percent and where African American and Latino households lost more than 50 percent of their net worth during the recession.

The 500 positions would not have gone to nameless and faceless people but to qualified residents we know who have been seeking gainful employment for months, some for over a year. 500 families may now unnecessarily lose homes or be unable to send children to college for lack of a steady income. And significantly, they will be unable to spend the earned money in their neighborhoods to stimulate business growth. The lost multiplier effect of their local wages could have sustained businesses, created more jobs, and launched new entrepreneurs in a way that would have increased their own direct expenditures by 10 to20 fold.

For far too long, South Los Angeles has been excluded economically and at times systemically and this is not the first time the MTA has shown a callous disregard for South Los Angeles. The recent decision to run the Crenshaw line at street level right past Crenshaw and View Park High Schools and an earlier decision to run the Expo line (also at grade) right past Dorsey High, must be contrasted with the current discussions as to whether 50, 60 or 70 feet below ground is sufficient clearance to run a train UNDER Beverly Hills High School.. Such exclusion has caused significant tangible economic disparities.

But come on now! It is simply unconscionable for the leaders overseeing the largest expenditure of public sector taxpayer dollars to ever potentially hit South Los Angeles, to knowingly send 500 high quality jobs and resources to Japan in this economic environment.

Blair H. Taylor is the President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League