You Need Us To Tax Us, So Create Us A Nexus!

THE POSSIBILITIES - As I stated in my last CityWatch article, very large public works projects (like a Valley/Westside Rail or LAX/MetroRail link, or the I-710 Pasadena tunnel freeway project) were not ideally addressed via “public/private partnerships”. 

In fact, such discussion usually is an admission we haven’t addressed how to fund such projects at all. 

So when pie-in-the-sky ideas are raised about creating these partnerships, yet we know that an insufficiently-promoted Measure J almost passed the 2/3 voting threshold, it makes more sense to focus on partnerships for smaller, more local projects while fixing what we know will probably work: a more attractive and more promoted Measure J-like effort. 

At a more local level, the City of Los Angeles just dropped a hastily-proposed $3 billion bond measure to repair our aging streets, and the County of Los Angeles just dropped an equally hastily-proposed (and rather sneaky) parcel tax measure to clean our county water system and reduce ocean pollution runoff. 

So shall we conclude that Angelenos and other County residents don’t care about our crumbling roads, aging sewer infrastructure, and unclean rivers and oceans?  Hardly—although most of us probably are infuriated as to why our taxes aren’t already addressing those needs. 

Furthermore, the concepts of an improved 21st Century freeway system still exist, such as an already-proposed I-5 widening from the I-605 to the I-710 freeways, or a City of Inglewood-proposed new freeway connector at/near/above La Cienega from LAX to the I-10 freeway as an alternative to the Westside I-405 freeway.  

Even more exciting is the concept of a “Los Angeles Big Dig” to significantly widen the I-10 and I-5 freeways Downtown, which would capture the hearts and minds of commuters who seek to bring our freeway system out of its current 1950’s mode of existence. 

From the rail end of our transportation network, taxpayers are equally fascinated by the concept of a MetroRail/LAX link (and will be able to weigh in this spring on how best to do just that), and an underground subway project to connect the San Fernando Valley to the Westside. 

Another intriguing possibility is a dual Crenshaw/LAX Line “Phase Two” that would connect LAX-bound commuters on an extended Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line both to the Wilshire Subway and (via an Inglewood branching) directly to Downtown.  Exciting also is a countywide Green Line/Metrolink Initiative to connect and extend Metrolink and MetroRail to the South Bay, Norwalk, and Ontario Airport. 

And, of course, we’d like our roads and alleys and sidewalks to finally be as beautiful and usable as they were always intended to be. 

The taxpaying public, as beleaguered as it is, remains committed to creating and fixing quality transportation/infrastructure projects and is probably willing to raise taxes in order to do it, so long as: 

1) Enough reform is performed with current public sector budgeting, because most taxpayers remain outraged that current spending is wasted on inefficiency, self-serving public sector unions, and just plain lousy spending priorities.  

There must be greater proof to taxpayers that the money can’t be raised already from current tax revenues if government can just clean up its act.  There needs to be a link, a NEXUS, between a government that sufficiently tightens its belt and a government that asks more of its taxpayers—Governor Brown barely did it, but the City of L.A. is nowhere close to improving its spending/budgeting credibility. 

2) The fundraising request is for quality projects with transparent budgets to please both the analysts and the taxpayers, and with the private and public sectors working together to improve our transportation/infrastructure needs to achieve results that will further our region’s economic opportunities.  

There needs to be a link, a NEXUS, between what businesses pay for and get in return—the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association just replaced 19 aged ficus trees that were destroying sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and did so with a private/public partnership that combined the efforts of Maxine Waters, Bill Rosendahl, the Westchester Business Improvement District and neighborhood volunteers. 

3) The public is allowed IN to the taxing process, and there’s a guaranteed return from what people pay for and what they get.  

If homeowners and property owners are expected to pay more for parcel taxes, they will want a link, a NEXUS, between their increased property taxes (already at dubiously-high levels) and an overdue repair and beautification of surface streets, sidewalks and alleys they can see. 

(And would it be too much to ask the City and County of Los Angeles, as “pro-environment” as it claims to be, to let any contracting nurseries know that native plants will be promoted in order to restore our disappearing fauna, and to reduce both water usage and costs of any trees needed to replace any destructive ficus trees?  Their opposition to date to native trees is mind-boggling and cost-ineffective.) 

4) Spending is done by everyone, and is as cost-effective as possible.  Asking one group of taxpayers to take care of everyone else’s needs invariably attracts enough opposition to sink even the worthiest of endeavors.  

Renters, homeowners, businesses, out-of-town customers, and especially developers all add to the wear and tear of our transportation and infrastructure grids.  There needs to be a link, a NEXUS, between what we ask of taxpayers, volunteers and developers, and what they have done to both contribute to the problem and contribute to fixing the problem. 

Rerouting business taxes and fees towards fixing adjacent alleys, raising parking fees to create dedicated sidewalk repair funds, empowering neighborhood councils to cooperate with the City to promote volunteers and funding efforts in order to fix key sidewalks and roads and alleys within their boundaries at the next Mayor’s Day of Service are some novel ideas. 

Asking nonviolent criminal offenders and debt-burdened college students to provide sweat equity while allowing them to start over by constructing public works projects are other novel ideas.  

Allowing homeowners with upside-down mortgages to cooperate with banks and businesses to assist in these public works projects and allow their mortgages to be partially forgiven is yet another idea. 

Being fair, and being innovative, and being industrious, are not mutually exclusive—there’s a link, a NEXUS, between agonizing over our transportation/infrastructure problems and fixing them to the satisfaction of both government and taxpayers alike.

  

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-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 Alpern@MarVista.org This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)  

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 9

Pub: Jan 29, 2013