As excited as city officials are about a possible Metro light-rail train coming to the northeast San Fernando Valley, they were clearly disappointed to learn the amount of money they must pay for the project to be completed.  

According to the Measure M guidelines approved by voters last year for funding the transit line from Van Nuys to Sylmar, the ordinance requires a three percent local funding for designated projects. That means the City of San Fernando must come up with approximately $4 million or have the money withheld from other allocations.  

Those allocations are what fund street sweeping, tree trimming, and other city maintenance, Finance Director Nick Kimball said.

City officials receive about $1.8 million a year from taxes and allocated funds.  Kimball said if those funds are used for this Metro project, the city might face two years of going without those services unless an agreement is made with the agency.  

Discontent regarding the “three percent match” was expressed during the San Fernando City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, because that cost was not a requirement when the Expo Line was built to Santa Monica, and the Gold Line extended to Azusa. (Both these projects were funded by Measure R, the predecessor to Measure M.)

“Now, we’re all excited, we love light rail, I think it’s going to be a great project, and we want it to come here. But now that the [funds] are coming to the San Fernando Valley, now there is a three percent match. That’s going to significantly impact the City of San Fernando and our ability to provide core services to keep our infrastructure up,” Kimball said.

Kimball called the issue a matter of social justice.  

“We are a much lower income city than Culver City or Pasadena. Yet we’re being asked to pay for our portion of a three percent match when some of those communities weren’t,” Kimball said.

“And they were being subsidized by taxes that the northeast Valley was paying. Now that it comes to us finally getting some projects — and we’re excited about it — you know, this is kind of disappointing.”

Metro representatives said that the local match cost was added to Measure M so that cities can be engaged and “have a little skin in the game,” as Community Relations Deputy Karen Swift put it.  

She said that withholding funds for those agencies that do not reach a timely agreement with Metro is “a last resort,” but added the representatives were not worried about that being the case for the City of San Fernando because they are an active “partner” that is willing to work with Metro.

She is sure her agency and the city can agree on a “timeline of payments,” Swift said, suggesting the match fee could be paid over an extended period of time. She also suggested city officials apply for additional Metro non-competitive grants.  

But it was also made clear to the council that the three percent match is non-negotiable, and the city must pay it.

City Manager Alexander Meyerhoff said that San Fernando officials would be “aggressively pursuing transportation funds,” something they had not been doing.

Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez was optimistic, suggesting the city might be able to meet that requirement with in-kind contributions.

“We need to be able to look at this partnership a little bit closer on our staff side because I think there is quite a bit of improvement that we can provide to our city during this project, and not just give up the three percent immediately,” he said.

“It works for both sides because if we start revitalizing that corridor, it looks good for Metro, to the ridership, and to our city. We need to look at it that way and not see it as we’re just forking up $4 million. I think we need to be creative and, as a future plan, put some money aside for this project as well.” 

Still, Mayor Sylvia Ballin was not happy.

“I’m very disappointed that once again affluent communities get a perk, get a privilege that is not afforded to the disadvantaged communities,” she said, closing the discussion.

The council also decided Monday to become bolder in revising a letter being sent to the California Public Utilities Commission, urging it to closely review the impact of Southern California Edison’s proposed 2018 general rate increase. The letter says the rate increase would further burden the city’s working class residents, and the City of San Fernando, which is also a customer.

Councilmember Jaime Soto suggested the revised letter should have stronger language, asking the commission to consider and recommend other funding options instead of raising rates on consumers. He said the letter should inquire about programs or incentives the city might possibly qualify for, considering the city’s size and financial capacity.