By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
While he opposed the ouster of reform-minded MTA chief Franklin White Jr., he took little action himself to curb MTA abuses. One political staffer said he once asked a Yaroslavsky aide why the boss didn't push for more controls. "That's not the way we do things," the aide responded. Former allies also wonder why he waited until the money was gone to kill the subway.
"He could have pushed for policies at the MTA that we are going to put so much money into this and that's it," said Patsaouras, who served with Yaroslavsky on the MTA board. "He was articulating that. But I saw him, sometimes he would feel frustrated and give up."
Yaroslavsky said he didn't have the board votes to drive reform.
"I'll stand on my record at the MTA," Yaroslavsky said. "I was a voice in the wilderness against sleazy contracts to build tunnels and grossly optimistic financial projections."
Unlike some board members, Yaroslavsky showed no obvious allegiance to particular contractors. But he took their money. From 1987 to 1993, Yaroslavsky collected $44,000 in donations from rail-linked firms, the L.A. Times reported. He was the biggest single recipient of donations from Mannatt, Phelps & Phillips, a downtown law firm that counseled rail companies, and one of the Top 10 rail donors of that period. His wife, Barbara Yaroslavsky, returned an excess donation from a rail contractor after her unsuccessful 1995 City Council bid.
Yaroslavsky said the donations never influenced his rail policies. "MTA contractors have not been a fund-raising base for me," the well-heeled supervisor pointed out.
Still, considering Proposition A's limited scope and Yaroslavsky's own record, the measure makes more sense as a political maneuver than serious rail policy. To longtime City Hall watchers, the measure is vintage Zev: a big, splashy proposal that talks tough but is unlikely to upset the status quo.
"Zev waits until the bandwagon arrives at the party and then jumps on," said Walsh.
"It's like Vietnam: Declare victory, cite the will of the people, and get out," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.
In 1986, Yaroslavsky used a similar ballot ploy to launch an electoral challenge to Mayor Tom Bradley. Proposition U called for citywide reductions in building density. The catch was that the measure exempted existing development hot spots, such as the Westside Pavilion, where Zev had backed controversial expansion.
Proposition U went on to victory, but Yaroslavsky was not so lucky. Two internal political memos were leaked to the press. The memos, written by consultants Michael Berman and Carl D'Agostino, whose firm went by the name BAD, questioned Bradley's intelligence and urged Yaroslavsky to fund his campaign through a "united Jewish appeal." In the ensuing uproar, Yaroslavsky pulled out of the race.
In subsequent years, the once-ambitious Yaroslavsky seemed to be avoiding the spotlight, but with his 1994 election to the county board, he appears to be on the rebound. The next mayor's race will be the first time Yaroslavsky can run without risking his own seat. Some analysts see Proposition A as the supervisor's opening salvo.
But others say Yaroslavsky could be testing the waters for higher office, or as one wag suggested, merely shoring up his image as "the grand pooh-bah of fiscal watchdogs." Disappointed rail supporters ask: Is this any way to kill a subway?
"He's against the MTA, but he's part of the MTA," Eastside subway advocate Joe Coria said bitterly at a recent demonstration. "Now he steps back and throws rocks."
"It's like we only built the Metro as a movie set," said Frank Villalobos of Barrio Planners, who also attended the protest. "We're being used as pawns in a big political game."