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LOS ANGELES Wednesday, November 25th 2015 8:02

LA’s ‘Transpo Mayor’ Still Has Some Work to Do to Make Label a Legacy

GETTING THERE FROM HERE - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have two lasting talking points to describe his mayoral era in the City of Los Angeles:  education and transportation.  In both instances he was able to lead wide swaths of the electorate in shaking up the status quo and making progress that his predecessors weren’t able to achieve.  He has especially earned the title of the “Transportation Mayor.”
Unfortunately, amidst Mayor Villaraigosa’s efforts to expedite our current MetroRail network (and perhaps frustrated after years of lobbying first a do-almost-nothing Democratic Congress and then a do-virtually-nothing Republican Congress), his efforts to burnish his legacy as a Transportation Mayor threaten to undo—or least seriously harm—the credibility he’s rightfully earned as the Man with the Plan to build a 21st Century LA County Rail Network.

Let’s not underestimate Mayor Villaraigosa’s accomplishments, folks.  He undid the legal hurdles of House Rep. Henry Waxman’s blockage of the Wilshire Subway based on geological/methane concerns (but which were probably more related to the aftermath of the LA Riots 20 years ago), and he undid the fiscal hurdles of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s subway construction blockage (and even got Yaroslavsky on board as a true partner in building the Wilshire Subway).

So if Mayor Villaraigosa (and his state ally Assemblyman Mike Feuer) are to succeed in extending Measure R and get that measure’s projects built in our lifetime, the mayor will have to avoid the challenges and pitfalls facing Governor Jerry Brown with the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) Project in finding a way to convince voters that HIS plans are OUR plans for the future of our city, county and state.

CHALLENGE #1:  How long should Measure R be extended, and for what should that extension get us?

Please, Mr. Mayor—don’t make an extension of Measure R indefinite or virtually-indefinite, and have our children and grandchildren pay for our generation’s projects.  No one is happy with how long it will take for the Subway to be built at our current fiscal/legal pace, but the Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good.

Clearly there’s a benefit to building NOW because construction costs are so amazingly low right now, as apartment developers have discovered. However, what if we can’t build the whole Subway now, but can expedite it only to Century City to poke its nose into the Westside the way the first phase of the Expo Line does to Culver City?

Both the Expo and Wilshire construction phasing schemes do leave voters, taxpayers and commuters frustrated but it would frustrate enough of them to consider either City, private/public partnership and even foreign-based funding schemes to get the Subway to its Wilshire VA terminus sooner.  Such a frustration is critical during a time when taxpayers are increasingly up in arms at their high level of taxes, and what is perceived at a low return on their tax investments.

After all, we don’t really know yet how the opening of the first phase of the Expo Line will turn out.  While it’s my own sincere belief that the Expo Line, which parallels the I-10 freeway and is virtually a widening of its capacity, will be a BIG  hit … we just don’t know how, or even if, it will make voters hunger for more projects.  Furthermore, maintenance of our current MetroRail network, such as the Blue Line, also begs technological and fiscal support. (Link)

Some excellent ideas exist for what an extended Measure R could help fund (in addition to expediting current Measure R projects), such as beefing up plans and funding for a truly first-rate north-south subway from the Valley to the Westside to LAX and the South Bay.  But these have not been sufficiently vetted with Metro staff and (especially!) the taxpayers.

So let’s not follow the example of the CAHSR project championed by Governor Brown, which despite its potential is too many cynical and turned-off taxpayers “all over the place” and short on credible specifics.

CHALLENGE #2:  Isn’t it ideal to remain fiscally conservative while championing new taxpayer-funded initiatives?

Both Democratic and Republican political leaders are trying to find ways to cut government spending during this ongoing economic downturn, but to truly balance our local and state and national budgets there will have to be more asked of the taxpayers.  Transportation is no exception.

Unfortunately, we’ve got lobbies in the worlds of military, social welfare, education, health and other spending who are more than happy to let infrastructure and the economy go straight to hell.  Furthermore, pension reform is hideously overdue, public sector union leaders are still living in another universe, and government inefficiencies and corruption still abound.

Because there are too many communities fighting development of our MetroRail network, or demanding unrealistic and/or unaffordable mitigations, an “open checkbook” is the last thing we need for MetroRail development.  Sweating it out to stay on budget and on time is the best way to preserve Metro’s standing with the taxpayers…especially if we want more from them.

CHALLENGE #3:  Not everyone wants rail as much as they want other forms of transportation to be enhanced.

Many taxpayers still need their cars, and/or recognize that even a fully-developed MetroRail will need to be blended with a road/freeway system that’s also ready for the 21st Century.  Would these extended Measure R funds also be dedicated to planned freeway projects such as the I-5 expansion between the I-605 and I-710 freeways?  Would greater road repairs, bicycle and bus amenities and sidewalks also be included in an extended Measure R?

Inquiring taxpayers, including those who want an expedited Wilshire Subway, surely want to know.

CHALLENGE #4:  An expedited Wilshire Subway is not the only transportation project that enjoys support, and balance is needed to make sure an expanded Measure R achieves a two-thirds vote of LA County taxpayers.

I doubt that there’s a shortage of transportation advocates who really wish that County Supervisor Mike Antonovich would learn when to drink a tall glass of “Eau De Shut the Hell Up”.  The supervisor’s “gang rape” comment about Measure R hurting some taxpayers reflects not on Mayor Villaraigosa but on Antonovich’s boorish tendencies.

However, the need for balance as a way to get all voters on board with extending Measure R is as fundamental now as it was to passing it in the first place.  So for Visionary Villaraigosa to get past the unending complaints of Asinine Antonovich and Moaning Molina (who also opposes passage and extension of Measure R), the following would need to be promoted to get eastern LA County and other voters on board:

1) Extending the Foothill Gold Line to Claremont

2) Extending the Green Line to South Bay with a first-rate connection to LAX

3) Extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line northwards underground to connect with the Wilshire Subway

So the Mayor, and all who support his efforts to extend Measure R in order to avoid relying on an unreliable Washington and Sacramento, will need to again make sure that it’s not about HIM but about US.  In other words, LA County still has to learn how to save itself from its transportation quagmire.

And our traffic and other transportation problems are not going to fix themselves.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Ken Alpern, Mayor Villaraigosa, Transportation Mayor, Measure R, Mike Antonovich, Taxpayers, Zev Yaroslavsky

Vol 10 Issue 33
Pub: Apr 24, 2012