LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – While the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority struggles to replace buses that broke down and caught fire because of a lack of money, the agency is proposing spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on steam and sauna rooms for its employees.
CBS2's David Goldstein uncovered an entry in the upcoming budget proposal that would put $200,000 towards installing steam and sauna rooms in a private workout facility that sits under Metro's downtown L.A. headquarters.
In emails obtained by CBS2, Metro CEO Phillip Washington asked his staff to look into the feasibility of such steam and sauna rooms.
"Been using and thinking about our P-1 metro workout facility," Washington wrote in a Jan. 7 email to Metro Chief of Capital Development Joanne Peterson. "Please advise on the feasibility of installing a coed sauna or steam room."
Metro gave Goldstein a tour of its workout facility, which although it is available to all 11,000 Metro employees, is only used by about 120 on a daily basis.
Washington claims some of the people in the gym gave him the suggestion for the sauna and steam rooms, even though his email only specifically stated that "he's" been thinking about it. Washington admitted to Goldstein that he uses the workout facility, but denied that was why he proposed a steam room.
"No, no, I very rarely sit in a steam room and a sauna," he responded when Goldstein questioned him on whether he had a private motive for wanting steam and sauna rooms installed.
Four minutes after he sent off his Jan. 7 email, he received the following response from Peterson: "We will study this," she wrote.
Less than 24 hours later, he was emailed a sketch showing exactly how his idea could be implemented. There were two different estimates, one at $200,000 and a second at $50,000, all funded by taxpayer dollars.
"So this is where they could turn one of these stalls into steam and sauna," Goldstein described the plans explained in an email from a Metro executive to Washington. "This one $50,000. But for $200,000 they were going to rip out one of the locker areas here."
"Thanks Steve," Washington responded. "I like the $200,000 option."
Metro officials admit some of the money for a steam room could come from Measure M, a half-cent sales tax hike approved by L.A. County voters in 2016 to raise money for transit and freeway improvements.
"You were given an option of $200,000 to spend or $50,000 dollars to convert, I think, the showers into steam. You came back and said no, you liked the $200,000 version better," Goldstein asked Washington. "Do you think that's a good use of money?"
"Yeah, no I don't," said Washington.
Metro officials told CBS2 the steam and sauna room was removed from next year's budget, but are still being considered for the future.
"There's relatively cheap projects that would improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Angelenos and I think that should be their priority," said Joe Linton, editor of StreetsBlogLA, which examines local transit issues.
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