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Joel Epstein Headshot

Take the (A) Train -- Your Name Here on Metro

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OK, so maybe a better name for this blog would have been "Slow Train Coming." Like the 1979 album by a then-reborn Bob Dylan, faith is key to holding fast to the belief that Los Angeles will one day be known by the uninitiated as anything other than a great big freeway. But wait, November actually marked a mass transit milestone of sorts for Los Angeles. Earlier this month, whether you were polluting the environment from the front seat of your SUV, or listening to a KCRW pod cast while riding the Metro Rapid Wilshire Blvd bus, you couldn't have missed the stories about Metro's extension of the Gold Line to East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. While other cities celebrate the arrival of entire new generations of transit systems with sleek new lines, stations, and trains for their long-served mass transit riding public, Angelenos are just happy to have one more line to ride and to ease the infamous traffic on its freeways and surface streets. The new Metro Gold Line Eastside extension is a mere six miles long and includes only eight new stations, but the line which links East L.A. to Downtown before rolling on to Pasadena is an important stop along the tracks to Los Angeles joining the ranks of world class cities that give its people a choice in how they navigate their way around.

Dedicated fixed-rail mass transit is so overdue in parts of Los Angeles that many older native Angelenos have gone their whole life without riding a train. Thanks in no small part to the misguided obstinacy of successive generations of visionless political leaders, Los Angeles is now playing catch up for the decades of missed opportunities to build rail instead of new lanes on the freeway and to ceaselessly take private property to widen major, and minor, thoroughfares through dozens of once proud neighborhoods.

But let's look forward not back. With LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calling the subway to the sea and other long overdue urban mass transit projects priorities Los Angeles is poised to build and tunnel and roll its way to some concrete alternatives to bumper-to-bumper on the 10, the 405 and the 101. And, having come to its senses, the local Congressional delegation is doing all that it can for us in Washington where we will need all the help we can get in seeking billions in mass transit funding. The five year Gold Line extension cost nearly $900 million, and the planned projects will require far more. The current estimate for building the Purple Line to the sea is between $4 billion (Ford version) and $9 billion (Lexus) with the subway going all the way to Santa Monica, rather than only to Westwood, and a spur running north through relatively densely settled West Hollywood.

Sure, there will always be those who say that Los Angeles' sprawling geography makes dedicated subway and light rail lines a bad solution. But as anyone who has driven in this city knows, the naysayers are plain wrong and dedicated rail lines are the way to go for many of the city's most congested transit routes. Refreshingly, even Beverly Hills which previously opposed building a subway line through the city has now endorsed the plan.

Which brings me to a point I have been trying to find traction on for years. Why aren't we asking the business and philanthropic community to help do their part by offering to pick up the tab on Metro station construction? With businesses and donors falling over themselves to purchase the naming rights to ballparks and concert halls, shouldn't the Mayor and Metro be massaging the egos of AEG, Google, Occidental, and Sony to pick up the relatively modest tab of building a station (the big ticket item is tunneling through the methane-rich rock that served as the pols' excuse to stop the project a quarter century ago...)? What's wrong with a subway stop tagged by Oxy next to their headquarters at Wilshire and Westwood, or a Google Metro station near the transit friendly company's Santa Monica headquarters? In fact, let's let them throw in a robust Wi-Fi network for the whole transit system while we are at it so city employees and the rest of us can read our gmail while riding to and from work. And let's not forget a new station for the Broad Art Museum to be built in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills or Los Angeles. I don't know whether anyone is working on this obvious idea but if not, Metro and the Mayor should be.

What are some of the first questions a smart donor asks a hospital or school looking for cash to build a new building? Having asked those questions myself as a philanthropic advisor for starters I always want to know who else is on board, how much has already been raised, and whether all of the board members have already ponied up. In putting together that fat ask for Congress if I ran Metro I'd want to be able to say that not only have the Chamber of Commerce and unions endorsed the plan, but Warner Bros., Univision, Fox, the Related Companies and Northrop Grumman have already committed to contribute millions of dollars towards construction of these five or more subway and light rail stations.

Regarding my train of dreams, Metro and the City fathers and mothers' logic needs to be, "If we build it, they will come." But since faith alone won't pay for what's needed, we shouldn't be ashamed to hold out our hat to those with dough to contribute to a genuine civic venture. If this means offering the business and philanthropic communities the chance to put their name on it, so be it.