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SUPPORT FOR FLEMING INTENSIFIES; BIPARTISAN LAWMAKERS BACK CIVIC LEADER FOR COMMISSION.

Byline: Terri Hardy and Doug Haberman Daily News Staff Writers

A group of lawmakers are intensifying their bipartisan attempts to persuade Gov. Gray Davis to keep a San Fernando Valley civic leader on the state Transportation Commission at a time when crucial long-term funding decisions face the state.

Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said Friday that he has asked to meet with Davis to discuss the governor's decision not to reappoint David W. Fleming, the only member of the Transportation Commission from the Valley region.

``We're going to fight like hell for David Fleming, because he fights like hell for the San Fernando Valley,'' Hertzberg said.

The governor's office recently announced that former Democratic congressman Esteban Torres, who represented Pico Rivera and areas of East Los Angeles in Congress from 1982 to 1999, is replacing Fleming, whose term expired at the end of March.

Fleming, a Republican, is an attorney and civic leader who founded the current City Charter reform movement in Los Angeles.

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles, praised Fleming as ``a very intelligent voice on the commission'' and said it was important to keep him on the panel.

Because there are still two vacancies on the nine-member commission, Hertzberg and others are calling for Davis to appoint Fleming to one of those seats.

Villaraigosa and Hertzberg both said they believe Torres will also provide a valuable contribution to the Transportation Commission.

But a leader of a prominent Valley business organization said Torres' appointment is an ominous sign for transportation priorities in the Valley region.

``Because of Torres' influence, funding that should go to the Valley now could be directed to another area, I would assume to East Los Angeles,'' said Larry Gray, co-chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association's transportation committee. ``This is another blow to the Valley's transportation needs.''

In Congress, Torres was a proponent of more funding for the Los Angeles subway even as criticism mounted of the agency's finances, its revenue forecasts and its problem-plagued Red Line project.

When Torres was a member of the influential House transportation appropriations subcommittee, he said he wouldn't support federal funds for the North Hollywood subway extension even though it was more than half finished.

Torres and other Eastside politicians said the money could be used for other transit projects and demanded that Mayor Richard Riordan, MTA chairman, funnel more transportation money to East Los Angeles.

Torres could not be reached for comment Friday.

Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles, said he respects Torres but agrees with those who say the former congressman ``didn't seem responsive to San Fernando Valley concerns'' during fights over MTA funding.

Further, Hayden worries that Torres was a champion for the MTA in Washington, D.C.

``He didn't respond to criticism that the subway was an irrational, scandal-ridden system that was devouring funds that could be used elsewhere,'' Hayden said.

Hayden said Fleming was very knowledgeable about transportation issues and was an advocate for the Valley and the region.

``He's being taken out of the equation at an absolutely critical moment,'' Hayden said. ``With Esteban as chief defender of the MTA, combined with the removal of Fleming - that's going to have a serious impact in the Valley. We're going to have to work to change that.''

Gov. Davis' spokesman Michael Bustamante rejected assertions that Torres would be anti-Valley while a member of the commission.

``While a congressman, (Torres) worked for 12 years to ensure Metro Rail was there for all residents in Los Angeles County,'' Bustamante said. ``It was the MTA that forced him into a very difficult choice of one project or the other.''

Bustamante did not comment on Davis' reasons not to reappoint Fleming, except to say, ``This decision doesn't say anything about Mr. Fleming. Anyone is more than welcome to submit an application to serve on the commission.''

Tony Lucente, president of the 2,000-member Studio City Residents Association and an unsuccessful candidate for the Elected Charter Reform Commission, said Friday he will seek a position on the state Transportation Commission.

Lucente said that he, as a Democrat and an early supporter of Davis for governor, will have a better chance of an appointment than Fleming.

``Pete Wilson is no longer governor - this is a new era,'' Lucente said. He said it's crucial to maintain a Valley voice on the state panel.

``The Valley hasn't gotten its fair share in the past - that's what's fueling the secession drive,'' Lucente said. ``I'd like to try to change that. With a voice comes influence.''

Every year, the commission makes the final decisions on allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects.

Fleming said he would like to return to the commission to work on streamlining the project-approval process to relieve traffic congestion around the state more quickly, he said.

In support of Fleming, Hertzberg gathered the signatures of 15 of his Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Assembly and Senate and presented them to the governor.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 10, 1999
Words:825
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