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Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia elected to Metro board—will he improve the Blue Line?

He’s the first Long Beach official to serve on the board in nearly a decade

Blue Line through Long Beach Frederick Dennstedt | creative commons

During the campaign for Metro’s Measure M, some of the fiercest opposition came from South Bay and Gateway Cities officials who argued the sales tax hike to pay for new transit projects didn’t do enough to benefit residents in their areas. Now, after nearly 70 percent of voters approved the measure in November, one of its key advocates in the South Bay will join the Metro Board of Directors.

On Thursday, the board unanimously elected Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who endorsed Measure M the day after a judge rejected a petition against the ballot language filed by a group of seven nearby cities, including neighboring Carson and Signal Hill.

Garcia will replace Lakewood City Councilmember Diane DuBois, an outspoken critic of the ballot measure. Garcia’s appointment gives Long Beach direct representation on the board for the first time in almost ten years.

That’s big for residents of the area, as Garcia has long been an advocate for transit, bike, and pedestrian-friendly approaches to urban design. In an interview with LongBeachIze, Garcia says he’ll help to ensure all Gateway Cities receive their fair share of funding to pay for necessary road repairs and infrastructure improvements.

But for many LA area commuters, the biggest question is what this means for the Blue Line, the oldest—and busiest—route in Metro’s rapidly growing transit network. Ridership numbers on the Blue Line have dropped off since peaking in 2012.

One issue that transit advocates have long griped about is the poor traffic signal synchronization that slows the train to a crawl as it passes through Long Beach.

“‘It’s unacceptable that the Blue Line has no signal preemption system—and it’s something I’m intent on addressing,’” Garcia tells LongBeachIze.

Fixing this issue could significantly speed up travel time along the route, improving commutes for tens of thousands of daily riders.

Another issue that Garcia aims to address is safety—a concern that’s frequently cited by riders across the Metro system. Recently, he’s promoted a plan that would allow the Los Angeles and Long Beach Police Departments to handle security in their respective jurisdictions.

Right now, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is Metro’s exclusive public safety provider, but Garcia and others—including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti—have argued that the multi-agency approach would bring more officers and better response times to the network of rail and bus lines.

“A lot of people say the Blue Line isn’t safe ... and that is part truth, part perception,” Garcia tells LongBeachIze. Security is absolutely the number one issue with the Blue Line because if people don’t feel safe, people won’t ride it.”