Though he holds down a day job as a land use attorney at Latham & Watkins, David Fleming has dedicated himself to civic services. He has served on the board of countless public and private organizations, including the MTA, and most recently has accepted the chair of the boards of both the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the California Center for Regional Leadership. In this MIR interview, Mr. Fleming discusses the role of those organizations in promoting state and local infrastructure and economic development.
The California Center for Regional Leadership is sponsoring its Civic Entrepreneurs Summit in San Francisco at the end of this month. What's the mission and spirit of that effort? Why is regionalism important?
Regionalism is probably the only real solution to many of California's problems, because most of those problems are regional in nature. That's why CCRL is so important. While he was Speaker of the Assembly, Bob Hertzberg commissioned a study on regionalism. After a great deal of work by a lot of leaders throughout the state, we came up with a plan for regionalism, and that has become CCRL's main mission.
What brings people to the CCRL Civic Entrepreneur Conference? What will be its focus?
It's an annual conference during which leaders from all of California's regions attend, not just to share their views as to what's going on in their regions but to learn from others about what is working and what isn't. Plans for the future are discussed as well as what is being done in each region politically.
You're on the MTA board as an appointee of Mayor Villaraigosa. Last year you told MIR that the L.A. region's mobility problems were not created overnight and that it will take longer than a few months or a year to fix them. A year later, what are MTA's priorities?
I think the number-one priority, not just of the MTA but of every civic group in the state, is to make sure that Measure 1-A and 1-B (the transportation bond) passes. This is the first time in 40 years that the citizens of California will have an opportunity to do something about our crumbling infrastructure. We have fallen so far behind the growing demand for greater mobility.
This bond of $20 billion is only the beginning of what has to be done to enlarge our system to meet the needs of the present, and, hopefully, with a lot more money, the needs of the future. If this bond does not pass, I fear for the future of our state. I would hope that every civic group in California reminds the voters of the importance and necessity to get this bond passed and to start rebuilding what we have neglected for the past 40 years.
The state bonds on the ballot include billions for goods movement, but only a fraction of what the governor originally proposed. How much is needed to catch up?
You're right. It's only a beginning in meeting our challenge. The LA-Long Beach harbors are the loading docks of America. About 43 percent of all the goods that come into the United States by water come through L.A.-Long Beach. The key is to move those goods from the port out and through Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. Financing these improvements politically will require a three-legged stool. It will require support from the state of California, from the federal government, and from private investment.
We figure that we will need somewhere in the area of $11 billion to get the goods through California and out to the rest of the nation. And that is a big order. But with the help of other states that are faced with the same goods movement problems-such as New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Texas, Louisiana, Washington state, and Florida-we can band together in Congress and create the critical mass to do something about this problem on the federal level.
We also need to amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide incentives for investors throughout the world to invest in a goods movement system nationally, which will benefit everyone. There are billions of dollars out there waiting to find investment opportunities here in America. We need to tap into these resources.
LAEDC issued a jobs report last year that found that there were 500,000 jobs in logistics within the region, with a million more well-paying jobs possible if we solve our mobility challenge. Should those findings improve the chances for further investment in the state's infrastructure?
They should. It's a win-win. We can not only move goods but also strengthen our economy through the creation of almost a million new jobs that are high-paying -even higher than manufacturing-with commensurate employee benefits. Nothing benefits the economy more than a high paying job.
You suggest a three-legged stool, but what about a fourth leg-local funding of transportation derived from a county-wide congestion mitigation fee. Would such a fee, if MTA were to approve it, be helpful given the magnitude of the investment needed?
I think we at MTA are open to all possibilities. First, MTA is facing a deficit this fiscal year of about $190 million. The first step in addressing that deficit will probably be a modest, but necessary, increase in fares for both rail and bus service. That's long overdue; there has not been a fare increase for a number of years. It's also going to require some imaginative financing, through bonds and other mechanisms, to find enough money to address traffic congestion on the local level.
Every day more and more people depend on transit to get from where they live to where they work and shop. Some think more transit is the answer to everything. I disagree. I think it's a melding of not only laying more track and adding more buses, but it's also laying more concrete. We're not going to break up the love affair between Southern Californians and their automobiles. We need both expanded public transit and more road and highway capacity. This bond begins to provide both.
As the incoming chair of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce-and a past chair of the LAEDC and VICA-what will be your highest priorities at the Chamber?
The Chamber chairmanship is a big order. I'm honored to be accorded that position. I think that the business community, frankly, has been AWOL over the last few years when it comes to strong advocacy. I think that the business community must shoulder much of the responsibility to get its message both delivered and acted upon by government. I'm eager for the Chamber to take a leading advocacy role.
LAEDC does some great work in providing the studies and data that we need to sell elective bodies on what this economy needs to grow and prosper. And it's up to the Chamber and other advocacy organizations to make sure that the solutions needed by the business community are enacted.
Prop 90, the cousin of Oregon's Prop 37, is on the state ballot in November and would require compensation to property owners for any state action that diminished an individual's property values. Does the business community have a public position on Prop 90?
I can understand that people don't like to have their property taken, even for projects in the public interest. But we can't paralyze government from doing things that are in the public's interest, and that foment lawsuits and claims against government for carrying out the people's business. In this regard Prop 90, as written, is a disaster.
It's not only a carefully disguised permanent-employment act for litigation lawyers but it hamstrings the very things these bonds are beginning to accomplish, namely expanding our infrastructure to meet the present and future needs of California.