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Letters

RAPPLEYE

Re: “Derailed Dreams” by Charles Rappleye [March 29–April 4]. The Bus Riders Union is not only bad for L.A.’s transit future but an insult to the civil rights movement. And it’s not just about rail. Salaried BRU organizers have opposed busways, the Rapid Bus program, the upcoming Universal Fare Smart Card technology and a study to allow college students to receive subsidized transit passes. Sound hysterical? At a recent MTA meeting, they passed out fliers stating that the East L.A. light-rail project would disturb the dead at nearby Evergreen Cemetery and cause cancer in the living.

The BRU knows that federal dollars earmarked for capital improvements have not one penny to do with bus operating funds but constantly repeat the lie that it is “bus money stolen for rail.” When cornered with the truth, they simply shout the lie louder and scream racism. Do we really have to have our future held hostage to race-baiting liars?

—Roger Christensen Sherman Oaks

 

In Charles Rappleye’s condemnation of the predilection of the Bus Riders Union for buses over rail, he declares that rail is a “faster, more comfortable alternative to the bus.” Is he not ignoring the obvious fact that buses go everywhere while rail can serve only certain corridors? It would be helpful to see a more substantial analysis.

—Kirby Baker Los Angeles

Charles Rappleye described the Consent Decree non-decision by the Supreme Court with precision. The only thing more troublesome than the lousy bus service of the MTA is the decision to improve it with a Consent Decree that puts too much power in the hands of a single judge.

Rail is indeed part of the answer, as is improved bus service, with or without more buses. They’re not mutually exclusive. A three-part approach to mass transit is quite simple:

1) More buses to areas that need access to the larger-capacity (i.e., higher-ridership) transit corridors; 2) rapid bus service along those corridors that have a higher ridership, to ensure smoother and quicker service; 3) rail and/or subway lines in those corridors that have much too high ridership for buses to be a real solution.

The Bus Riders Union’s fixation pushes the first part of the solution at the expense of the other two. I am a physician who for years has treated minority patients, many transit-dependent, and I am appalled by the "racialist" — i.e., racist — contentions of Eric Mann and the BRU. Pushing the race card at inappropriate junctures is what has given liberalism such a black eye for the last 10 to 15 years, and limiting a rail system that is used predominantly by minority riders is an excellent example of this counterproductive trend.

The BRU claims that rail serves predominantly white, suburban neighborhoods. Are they referring to the Blue Line, which serves a predominantly black and brown area between Long Beach and L.A.? Are they referring to the Gold Line, which will serve predominantly Latino East L.A.? Are they referring to the first phase of the Exposition Light Rail, which will be in the mid-city and serve predominantly black South Los Angeles?

I only hope Judge Bliss will now recognize that the Consent Decree does not entitle the BRU to "own" the MTA, which has for several years striven greatly to meet the spirit of the Consent Decree’s push to improve bus service. The BRU members who have been sold a bill of goods by the egotistical and dangerous Eric Mann need to remember that the same rail system that goes right up to their headquarters (as the Red Line does, you know) will predominantly be used by bus riders. The clueless sponsors of the BRU who pay Mr. Mann’s overpaid salary need to see how he has trashed the image of the BRU and replace him immediately with a less confrontational and more results-oriented leader.

Kenneth Alpern, M.D. Los Angeles

Your column accurately states that more buses stuck in the same traffic will not get us to a better place. If we accept that our freeways are already used by many more vehicles than their design capacity, and anticipate the continued growth in our human and vehicle populations, we should focus on two things: 1) securing the maximum amount of federal, state and other funding for our transportation systems, and (2) making sure that we spend those funds wisely.

In his brief tenure in Los Angeles, I believe that MTA chief Roger Snoble has demonstrated the vision and the skills to move us all forward. Eric Mann has shown nothing of the sort, yet he has somehow arrived at a position where he can hurt us all. I cringe.

Andrew Shaddock Manhattan Beach

If the Bus Riders Union were truly dedicated to helping out transit riders, they could attempt to achieve their goals through bond measures or initiatives, as rail advocates did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Instead, the BRU has become a bully with its brainwashed members chanting six-year-old slogans about "transit racism" that hardly seem appropriate for a light-rail system that runs through the heart of Compton and South Los Angeles. Is it racist to provide commuters with better options? With oil supplies dwindling, traffic increasing and environmental pollution remaining a constant concern, rail transit in Los Angeles is a necessity, not a luxury.

James Fujita Rancho Palos Verdes

When I first moved to Los Angeles from New York, I was baffled by the Bus Riders Union. Back in New York, we have the Straphangers Campaign, which seeks to improve transit by encouraging the purchase of more buses and the development of better rail service. The idea of a group opposing rail service under the guise of improving transit makes absolutely no sense. Anybody who knows anything about transit knows there’s a necessity for both bus and rail, depending on the density and length of the corridor. Sure. building rail lines costs more. But construction costs are temporary. The reason rail systems are used in large cities around the world is because the real issue is operational costs, which are permanent. Since one bus operator can only move 40 or 50 people, while a train operator — earning the same salary — can move as many as 1,000 people, how hard is it to understand that building rail is cheaper, more efficient, faster, and the better long-term solution in dense areas? Besides, what good does it do, exactly, to keep pouring buses into areas that are already grid-locked?

It’s a shame the BRU is so focused on its ideology. They are, in many ways, their own worse enemy.

Roger Rudick Los Angeles

I agree with Charles Rappleye in that the Bus Riders Union’s transportation priorities would be really bad for L.A.’s future mobility. Better local bus service is only one component of transportation. We also need better roads, HOV lanes, and a greatly expanded rail system to meet current and future mobility needs in Southern California. A 69 poercent yes vote for Proposition 42 on March 5 shows that commuters are fed up with traffic, and that they are willing to put their gas-tax money where their mouth is.

Daniel Walker Los Angeles

At the risk of positioning myself on the un–politically correct side of this issue, I have to agree with many of Mr. Rappleye’s points. I am a huge supporter and fan of public transportation — indeed, I ride a MTA bus most of the week to work. However, the myopic view that rail is evil and buses are the only solution is frustrating and absurd. When I worked downtown, I often used the Red Line, and I yearn for a regional rail system that will allow me to get to all of the major city nodes — a sentiment which I know is shared by many others. To see a long-awaited rail connection between downtown and Pasadana in danger of being scrapped is maddening.

And by the way, if we do have to drag the issue of race into this argument, Mr. Rappleye is correct — ride any of MTA’s rail lines and you will see virtually the exact same demographics as MTA’s buses. Yes, bus service could — and should — be better. But to improve bus lines in the short-term at the expense of a long-term regional public-transit solution is shortsighted and foolish.

David du Mars Los Angeles

Kudos to the Weekly! It’s about time someone told the truth about the Bus Riders Union. They have been telling tales and dropping jaws all over town for years. Anyone who has taken a Red, Blue, or Green Line train knows who takes this convenient, dependable mode of transit: every imaginable ethnic and socio-economic group. I took the Blue Line for two years through Compton, Long Beach, Willowbrook, South Central L.A., etc. I shared space with executives, housewives, construction workers, gangbangers. There were no problems or hassles: I loved it! Don’t let the BRU take away what makes L.A. great: diversity and increased mobility for all.

Nick Santangelo Los Angeles

I’d like to clear up two important points of misinformation:

1) The Consent Decree was not an agreement to purchase 50 to 100 buses and then stop (as if that’s enough buses to solve any problem). The Consent Decree, in short, is an agreement to remedy the problem of overcrowding, specifying buses being the priority.

2) As far as the issue of racial discrimination, our case was based on residential racial patterns and the lack of equal access to the public-transit system based on these patterns. It was not based on an individual rider taking a sample glance of his/her surroundings and assuming that this is a clear representation of transit riders across the board. If you can stop for a moment and see where this rail system is going both geographically and politically (or rather, where it isn’t going), it becomes clear who stands to benefit from its construction, and who stands to loose.

Clinton Cameron Member, Bus Riders Union Los Angeles

I guess these limousine liberals would rather have bus riders spending hours stuck in traffic than speeding across town on rails. The "rapid bus" still takes more than an hour to travel from the downtown to the Westside, a trip the Red Line could make in less than half the time if it were extended past Western Avenue to the places people want to go, like LACMA/Miracle Mile, Fairfax/Farmer’s Market, Beverly Hills, Century City, UCLA/Westwood, West L.A./Federal Building, and Santa Monica. It’s time to ignore the Bus Riders Union and finish the job of building the Metro Rail system, approved by L.A. voters in the 1980s, including lines to the Eastside, Westside, South Bay and the Valley. Unfortunately, the BRU, NIMBY groups and the courts have thwarted the will of the people. This political gridlock will only help to ensure that LA continues its downward spiral while other cities modernize and prosper.

Kirk D Schneider Whittier

My question is, what do your readers want, better mass transit for many people now or better mass transit for a few people later? Bus or rail? The folks who argue in favor of rail have never offered a coherent long-term plan for where L.A. should build tracks. Instead, they let fat-cat contractors corrupt spineless politicos into shortsighted, piece-by-piece proposals. The contractors want to build the rail system wrong now so they can be paid again tomorrow to rebuild it right.

The best solution is clear. First, solve the short-term problem. Put more busses on the streets now and let people ride for free. Efficient, free bus transport will significantly empty the streets of cars.

Second, for the middle term, develop a plan for where rails should be laid — probably a hub system like Tokyo’s efficient "spider web." Then build the pieces of that system according to intelligent adherence to the master plan, not according to whose pockets get fattest fastest.

Third, remember this: We live in the last days of a rapidly ending Ice Age. Ice is melting, the sea level is rising. In 500 years or so, most of Los Angeles will lie under water; the City of Industry will be beachfront property. The long-range solution is boats.

William Slattery Los Angeles

Thanks for shining a light on the Bus Riders Union. Just because an organization starts out great, doesn’t mean it should never be looked at again. I’ve worked for social-justice causes my whole adult life, so it has pissed me off no end being labeled a racist because I support light rail as a part of L.A.’s transit future. Between its weirdness about finances and mind-boggling salaries for its key people ("grassroots" my ass), grossly inflated membership numbers,and stunning instances of doublespeak (director Eric Mann’s public statement in November that the MTA had "met the criteria" of the federal agreement followed the next day by his admission that he really didn’t mean it), this is a group with very little credibility left. I hope the ACLU, the NAACP and Liberty Hill — organizations I deeply admire — will look at the BRU with fresh eyes. Until the BRU is able to make major changes in its goals, its rhetoric and its tactics, it does not deserve their support.

Karen Mathews Los Angeles

 

COOPER

Marc Cooper’s story about Bush’s military escalation in Colombia [“Mission Creep,” Dissonance, March 29–April 4] posits an irrationality of purpose to the U.S. mission there. Looking at Colombia only, that would be true. However, the real goal is control of Venezuelan oil. Increased U.S. proximity to this huge energy source, in the minds of Oily Bubba and the Corporate Thieves, translates to guaranteed U.S. access. Never mind that the overall practice of oil dependence — no matter what the source — is itself irrational and doomed to war and other conflagration. Is the U.S. public ready to make the switch to renewable and sustainable? I think yes, and we deserve the courage of leadership not only to say so but to do so. Does anyone doubt we need a change of regimes here in order for that to happen?

—Larry A. Piltz Austin, Texas

I am writing in regards to Marc Cooper’s article "Mission Creep." Instead of advising people to throw out their V.I. Lenin and crack open some Freud, may I suggest that the cynical might pass along the relevant works of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and State and Revolution to the youth who may have to fight in these wars that you seem to think are just bad policy and not the need to dominate the markets of the world.

Joseph Wagner South Pasadena

Marc Cooper’s story on Colombia and the involvement of the U.S. in the Colombian conflict lacks in research and draws irresponsible and dangerous conclusions. The largest consumer of Colombian drugs in the world can not possibly deny its already terrible contribution to the ills of its close neighbor. Mr. O’Grady says it is beyond him to see how any U.S. involvement would help alleviate things in Colombia. How about starting with some action on drug consumption in the U.S., and dropping the double standard where growing and producing drugs is evil but consuming the, is cool?

Paola Lozano New York

 

POWERS

Re: “It Ain’t Cool” [On, March 29–April 4]. Fine piece by John Powers. I’m very sorry to hear about Henry Sheehan getting let go by the Orange County Register. But I was more amazed that he was even there for that long. Mostly because he’s so good, and the few times I’ve seen that paper (when visiting family in Seal Beach), it’s been, well, if not lame, certainly limping.

—Sally Cragin Fitchburg, Massachusetts

 

I was put off, to say the least, by John Powers’ article. Undeniably, Harry Knowles is a film geek, and no, he has no life outside of enjoying films, but the man has etched out a symbiotic way of life with the very thing he loves so dearly. If only every human on Earth found such luck.

—Joe Scott Wake Forest, North Carolina

That great inrush of air you hear is the collective online film community sighing in despair as, yet again, Harry Knowles is assumed to represent us and what we do. I sympathize with John Powers — I really do. Film criticism is suffering a crisis of major proportions, and the news of Henry Sheehan’s ouster is distressing. Powers’ point that few serious critics can make a living at the job is especially well taken, because there are many of us on the Internet who take the job seriously and make little or no money at it. We are not all "self-promoting fanboys," which is perhaps why no one seems to take much notice of us. But there are a goodly handful of us who don’t get flown to movie sets to hobnob with stars and directors, who use exclamation points judiciously, who don’t break review embargoes, don’t post rumors or gossip, and don’t review test screenings. We have a decent understanding of film history, and we don’t have editors and advertisers pressuring us to be nice to the industry. We are independent and fearlessly opinionated.

There may not be many of us online, but we’re not that hard to find: A quick look through critics quoted at Rotten Tomatoes would reveal some wonderful, professional critics on the Internet: Jeremiah Kipp, Jill Cozzi, Bryant Frazer, to name a few. I hope that my own work may be Considered AS professional as it is possible to be without me actually being paid for the work.

We’re here. We’re not as sexy a story as that of Harry Knowles’ latest ravings, but please don’t assume that Knowles is the future of film "criticism." He isn’t. Some of us will carry the torch until the art is appreciated once again.

MaryAnn Johanson http://www.flickfilosopher.com

 

Once again, a column bemoaning the death of conventional film criticism trots out the odious Harry Knowles as the one and only symbol of where film criticism is headed. Powers is correct in lamenting the rise of syndicated critics in print media, as if fewer opinions about anything were a good thing. In an era in which CNN’s Walter Jacobson meets with Republican leaders to find out how the crown jewel of televised news can better cannibalize the audience of the yapping Fox News, though, I suppose it’s inevitable. Still, I’d like to reassure John Powers, and your readers, that serious film criticism for its own sake is alive and well, though you may not find it in the usual places.

As conventional print opportunities fall by the wayside, critics who write about film have taken to the Web, and they aren’t all fanboys like Harry Knowles. Indeed, the most fiercely independent voices have found a home on the Web, because we aren’t invited to press junkets, we often don’t go to special screenings, we are often completely ignored by the studios. Many of us sit in movie theatres with the rest of the hoi polloi, to achieve the full filmgoing experience.

Yes, there are terrible writers on the Web; witness some of the work that appears in Ain’t It Cool News. But I would put some of the best Web film critics up against their print and broadcast counterparts, many of whom are merely converted writers from other departments, any day of the week. MaryAnn Johanson of The Flick Filosopher (http://www.flickfilosopher.com) has been cited by Variety and Time as one of the best critics on the Web. Stephen Himes of Film Snobs (http://www.filmsnobs.com) is not just a knowledgeable, insightful film critic, but one of the best overall essayists I’ve read anywhere. Australia’s Mark Freeman of Critical Eye (http://home.vicnet.net.au/~freeman/welcome.htm) has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history that I would put up against that of any print critic.

These are not lone voices. Web-based communities to bring online critics together with the public have been successful at a time when conventional media sites, such as Mr. Showbiz, are closing their doors. Cinemarati: The Web Alliance for Film Commentary, was founded in January 2001 for just this purpose — to bring together Web critics with film lovers in a true community. In our first year we received over a million visitors. It’s clear that there is a demand for insightful film writing, even if mainstream media don’t see it. Don’t let the ubiquity of Harry Knowles fool you that superficial, "gee-whiz-wow" fanboy geeking is the future of film criticism. We are out there, you just need to look further.

Jill Cozzi Westwood, New Jersey

 

 

LEWIS

I applaud Judith Lewis’ article “Dealing With Druggies” [March 29–April 4]. Random drug tests are unconstitutional and demeaning. In my experience, treating a child like a criminal is a sure-fire way to ensure that he or she grows up to become one. Instead, let’s try treating children with frankness, honesty and respect.

—Adam Wiggins Pasadena

“‘It’s astonishing to see how what should be sound legal reasoning has been distorted by drug-war rhetoric,’ says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.” Mr. Nadelmann is being myopic. Surely the distortion in the legal reasoning of the Supreme Court goes much deeper than the drug war.

—Terrence T. Downes South Pasadena

LLOYD

Re: “The Binge” [Ant Farm, March 29–April 4]. Robert Lloyd is correct in his testament to reading’s ability to transport and illuminate. The least hopeful of us are those who cannot or, sadder still, will not read. Their worlds will remain forever narrow and skimpy and drained of color.

—George Radai Tarzana

CORRECTION

Last week’s story “The Mission Is on a Mission,” about a religious monthly’s coverage of Cardinal Roger Mahony, repeated information in an Los Angeles Archdiocese e-mail that was incorrect. Father Peter Liuzzi does not, in fact, teach at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino.