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Mayor appoints 2 to MTA board, considers rail contract [UPDATED]

March 26, 2009 |  8:32 am

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans this morning to appoint two new members to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority: City Councilman Jose Huizar and Rita Robinson, general manager of the city’s Transportation Department.

The new appointments come hours before the MTA board will consider the mayor’s proposal to give a second chance to an Italian rail company known as AnsaldoBreda Inc., which is building 50 light-rail cars for the agency under its current contract and asking the MTA to exercise contract options for an additional 100 cars -- a deal worth more than $300 million.

Top MTA executives, who say AnsaldoBreda is three years behind on its contract and that its cars are heavy, had planned to let the company’s contract options expire March 31 and open bidding for the manufacturing of 100 cars. But the mayor intervened on behalf of AnsaldoBreda after the company offered to build a rail car manufacturing plant in downtown Los Angeles with union jobs.

Several sources familiar with the negotiations said it appeared Villaraigosa had secured the seven votes he needed on the MTA board today to extend for two more months AnsaldoBreda’s options to build the 100 cars.  AnsaldoBreda has been eyeing a site in industrial Los Angeles that city officials hope to transform into a “green” manufacturing corridor.

The rail company has partnered with the green building company Shangri-La Construction, which was founded by Steve Bing, a prominent Democratic donor and film producer. Bing contributed $100,000 to the mayor’s campaign to replace three school board members in 2007 and $50,000 to the mayor-backed solar proposal known as Measure B, which went down in defeat.

As chairman of the MTA board, the mayor has three appointees to the 13-member panel. Huizar, who represents northeast Los Angeles, parts of downtown and Boyle Heights, replaces City Councilman Bernard Parks, who stepped down from the board in January. Robinson, who will represent parts of South Los Angeles, replaces another mayoral appointee to the MTA, former Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Fleming, who resigned Wednesday after the mayor named him to the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors.

Updated at 9:30 a.m.: Villaraigosa made the appointments this morning. He said Robinson would bring "much-needed synergy" between the MTA and the city with the passage of the half-cent sales tax increase, known as Measure R, for transportation projects.

-- Maeve Reston