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Mayor O'Connor in Line to Chair MTA Board, Will Seek Council Reelection

By Jorge Casuso

July 16 -- Mayor Pam O'Connor has been named 2nd vice chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board, putting her in line for the top post in 2007 if she wins reelection to the City Council next year.

O'Connor -- who was recently named "Distinguished Elected Official of the Year" by the American Planning Association's Los Angeles Section -- told The Lookout that she will seek a fourth council term, in large part to help shepherd through plans to bring light rail to Santa Monica.

"My mantra is 'all the way to Santa Monica,' and I want that to be in the forefront," O'Connor said. "When I get off the MTA board, it's unlikely another Santa Monican will hold it (a seat). The odds are against that."

O'Connor has represented the South Bay and Westside Cities on the 13-member board since 2001 and was recently appointed by the board chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to the MTA's Exposition Construction Authority.

The authority, which met for the first time this week, will oversee construction of Phase 1 of the Exposition Light Rail Line to Culver City.

Phase 2 is expected to boost ridership on the line from an expected 42,000 when it reaches Culver City to 72,000 when the stretch to Santa Monica is added. (see related story)

"It's important to get it all the way to Santa Monica to relieve the congestion on the Westside," O'Connor said.

O'Connor was named 2nd vice chair by the four board members representing 88 cities in the County. She is slated to assume the post of vice chair, currently occupied by County Supervisor Gloria Molina, in 2006 and chair in 2007, if she retains her post as an elected official, a requirement for sitting on the board.

O'Connor -- who managed to get around Los Angeles for five years without owning a car -- said she welcomes the challenges faced by the MTA Board, which oversees the agency that plans, coordinates, designs, builds and operates the transit system for one of the nation's largest counties.

"The next year promises to be very challenging, not only in relation to transportation issues, but also with respect to public safety, as we were rudely reminded by the horrific terrorist attacks in London," O'Connor said.

"But we are up to these challenges and more, and I look forward to addressing them head-on under what promises to be energetic and visionary leadership from Chairman Villaraigosa."

A historic preservationist who served on the Planning Commission before being elected to the council in 1994, O'Connor would like to be on the dais when the council updates the City's General Plan, which will shape development for years to come.

"I want to see that through," O'Connor said. "I want to get that completed in 2007."

O'Connor is also interested in making sure Santa Monica remains at the forefront of environmental issues, including implementing a multi-year sustainable City plan, as well as initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases and make Santa Monica more energy self-sufficient.

"There's so much more we're planning to do and can do, and I want to be there to move those things forward," O'Connor said.

A trained and practicing planner and long-time champion of public transit, O'Connor was recognized by the American Planning Association for bringing "enthusiasm, creativity and fresh insight into issues at the local and regional government level."

The association also cited her "tireless commitment and effort to promote planning issues focused particularly in the areas of historic preservation, environmental sustainability, smart growth principles and public transportation."

In addition to serving on the council and MTA Board, O'Connor serves on the Southern California Association of Government's (SCAG) Regional Council and is currently chair of their Regional Comprehensive Plan Committee.

She also serves on the Board of the Local Government Commission and on policy committees of the National League of Cities and League of California Cities. She is an active participant of ICLEI Cities for Sustainability and the Westside Urban Forum.

O'Connor, who has served three terms as mayor, said she is looking forward to next year's election campaign.

"When election season starts, I'll be out there running a vigorous campaign," O'Connor said.

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