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Apr 28, 2012

State senators, Gold Line officials lobby for funds to fill foothill extension funding gap-Star-News

The following article appeared in the 4/28/12 edition of the Pasadena Star-News.

By Brenda Gazzar, SGVN

With a $764 million funding gap facing the Azusa-to-Claremont segment of the Gold Line, state senators are joining the Gold Line Construction Authority's effort to make sure the Foothill Extension project is not left out in the cold as it vies for potential transit funds.

The Construction Authority board this week approved an updated expense plan and timeline identifying the cost for the entire 23-mile Pasadena-to-Claremont extension as nearly $1.6 billion, of which $810 million has already been allocated, with full completion planned for 2021.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) - the county's transportation planning agency - has already funded the Gold Line's 11.5-mile, $750 million Pasadena-to-Azusa segment with Measure R revenues. However, the 11.5-mile, $780 million Azusa-to-Claremont segment of the extension has yet to be funded.

On behalf of the San Gabriel Valley Legislative Caucus, state Senators Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, and Bob Huff, R-Walnut, urged the Metro board of directors in a letter Wednesday to include the the Azusa-to-Claremont segment in its updated expense plan.

"I want to make sure the San Gabriel Valley gets its fair share of transportation funding (from Metro)," Hernandez said Friday. "That's why we sent the letter, to make sure we get (the Gold Line) to Claremont ... It seems like most of the money would go to Los Angeles or to the West side" otherwise.

Doug Tessitor, chairman of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority and a Glendora councilman, agreed.

"We are basically trying to make sure that Metro and everybody else that is interested recognizes that our total funding requirements to complete the Gold Line extension go all the way to Claremont," he said. "We need about another $700 million dollars to get that accomplished."

Construction Authority officials hope the bill of Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, becomes law so that voters in November can consider an indefinite extension of Measure R's half-cent sales tax that Metro would use to accelerate funding for transit projects.

There was not enough money in the original Measure R approved in 2008, which is set to sunset in 2039, to fund the full needs of the Gold Line and all other transit projects in the county, Tessitor said.

Now that politicians are talking about extending the measure indefinitely, "we need to make sure (Metro and voters) are aware that there's a shortfall in our project," Tessitor said.

Metro officials said they recognize the measure calls for building the line to Claremont. "If and when additional funding becomes available, the Metro board will consider a Construction Authority request for funding," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Metro board member John Fasana, also the mayor of Duarte, said it's still unclear what the extension of Measure R would mean in real terms for transit projects.

"The Gold Line (Foothill Extension) is certainly one that's always been near and dear to my heart but I know there are other projects in the San Gabriel Valley that there is interest in," including the Alameda-Corridor East project and extending the Gold Line from its East L.A. terminus to cities such as South El Monte or Montebello. "We need to look at that."

But not all local politicians are sold on the idea of the half-cent sales tax extension. Sierra Madre Councilman Chris Koerber, a financial planner, said he's believes all taxes put to voters should have a sunset clause.

"Whenever you have a tax that does not have a sunset clause, instead of becoming a cap, it becomes a floor and expenses run right up because there's money available," he said.

Having a sunset clause in a tax, Koerber said, ensures that new residents will have the right to exercise their opinion on the matter periodically by voting.

Tessitor said if the measure is not extended, the Construction Authority will have to aggressively seek funding from "virtually every source that's available up to and including the federal government, the state government and obviously our local sales tax revenue."

Taxes paid by San Gabriel Valley residents would be the most logical place to get the needed funding, he said.

Construction Authority officials contend that the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension is the only project that owns the right of way and has such a high level of support.

It's anticipated the gap funding would be needed starting in 2016 with construction of the extension completed in 2021. The Pasadena-to-Azusa segment is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Environmental clearance for the Azusa-to-Claremont segment is expected later this year, according to Construction Authority officials. Preliminary engineering and design for that segment will take a few years to complete before construction can begin.