Should China Own the L.A. Subway?
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is getting desperate.
Good luck, China -- first you'll have to deal with Beverly Hills.
His ambitious plan to squeeze 30 years of public-transit construction into a mere 10 -- by borrowing $10 billion or so from the federal government -- has been scoffed at and dismissed by Congressmembers for a few years now.
But seeing as the in-limbo "30/10" plan has been one of his top bragging points as mayor, Villaraigosa knows he has to find the money somewhere. "I don't quit..."
... he told the Los Angeles Times yesterday. "We're focused on the prize."
The prize being, as mentioned, enough billions to pump out a dozen expensive Metro projects -- including Villaraigosa's dazzling pet project, "Subway to the Sea" -- in 10 years. If he doesn't secure the funds, opening-day ribbons won't be cut until around mid-century. Which would obviously be very wah-wah for current L.A. politicians seeking glory, and current residents expecting some fruits from their extra transit taxes.
So, here it is, the mayor's last resort: Let China buy the L.A. subway.
The Times is announcing that during the mayor's big royal business trip to Beijing in early December, he met with execs at China Investment Corp. to discuss their possible investment in L.A. transit. (The trip, by the way, cost taxpayers $30,000 per day, not to mention an absence of local leadership for almost two weeks.)
Some fast (and pretty scary) facts on China Investment Corp. via Atlantic Monthly:
During the late stages of this year's campaign, I had several chances to talk with the man who oversees many of China's American holdings. He is Gao Xiqing, president of the China Investment Corporation, which manages "only" about $200billion of the country's foreign assets but makes most of the high-visibility investments, like buying stakes in Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, as opposed to just holding Treasury notes.
Fear has been mounting, among increasingly aware Americans (thanks in large part to Occupy Wall Street's information campaign), that Asian countries may one day own our nation. Our federal government has already borrowed into the trillions.
But to Mayor V, eager foreign investors must look like glittering dollar signs with no consequences. Secure the 30/10 funds, and his political popularity will surge. And -- if all goes well, because if it doesn't, China will beat us up in a back-alley -- L.A. could become ground zero for America's sustainable transportation makeover, as city leaders have long predicted.
Winning the future, indeed! Or are we just signing our souls over to the superpower of tomorrow?
If not China, a few other Asian countries have come sniffing around SoCal's grandoise transit plans, as well. The Times reports:
Villaraigosa plans to host a group of Asian companies in Los Angeles later this year to "finalize agreements, secure investments and create jobs here in Los Angeles," according to a news release from the mayor's office. It was unclear if members of the Chinese corporation would be on that trip.
Of course, the core question remains: Is this even the right way to spend almost $20 billion (the loans plus L.A.'s transit tax), while Metro's bus system crumbles and potholes turn to "Alice in Wonderland" rabbit holes?
Subway proponents brush off those concerns as regressive and scaredy-cat in a changing world. Like the oft-wayward and -unaccountable Big Green industry, a new wave of interest in Earth-friendly transport has attracted flocks of entrepreneurs and businesspeople hoping to cash in on politicians' big talk.
Now, it appears Asia, flush with resources, is turning into their go-to "Fast Cash" loan stop.