We Need a ‘New Measure J’ … Are LA’s County Supes Up for It?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE - The results of the November election showed that sentiment to build transportation projects remains very strong, but that hurdles still remain for a transportation measure to pass.  Some political leaders will focus on a lowered voting threshold to passing transportation measures, but another focus still remains unaddressed:  should a “New Measure J” expedite Measure R projects, or should a “New Measure J go “beyond Measure R”?
It’s correct to presume that “only in California” would over 66% of the vote be considered a defeat for Measure J, but an accurate post-mortem not only should highlight the discrepancy between education measures (55%) and transportation measures (66 2/3%), but that Measure J was truly only a “Plan B” for expediting Measure R projects after a sufficient federal/local “America Fast Forward” effort failed. 
The “America Fast Forward” involved federal loans and bonds to fund guaranteed projects such as Measure R, and has a better chance of passing Congress this year now that the election cycle is over—should “America Fast Forward” finally be large enough to meet Measure J’s goals, would a “new Measure J” be worth pursuing even if the transportation measure voting threshold was also lowered to 55%?
My own answer—and I suspect the answer of many other voters and taxpayers—would be “YES”, provided we had a “new Measure J” that clearly went beyond Measure R.  Based on the grumblings of our County Board of Supervisors, who with the exception of Zev Yaroslavsky, clearly had problems with Measure J (and even Measure R), I’m guessing they would also, under the right circumstances, want a more goal-oriented and visionary initiative.
Now that we know the regional percentages of voters who approved Measure J, here are five questions (roughly the same question, but posed to each county supervisor) for the Board to consider:
1) To County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is currently Chair of the Metro Board, what would you do to “fix” Measure R and ensure the San Gabriel Valley and the rest of the county a transportation system that benefits all regions?
Supervisor Antonovich, you’ve adamantly insisted upon a Foothill Gold Line Extension to Montclair and Ontario Airport, as well as other projects to ensure a true county-wide transportation network (including an eastern Metro Green Line extension to the Metrolink system at Norwalk and whatever it takes to extend the Desert Xpress high-speed rail project to Union Station).
As a Westside Angeleno working in Orange and Riverside Counties, and who grew up in Long Beach, I can relate to your desire for taxpayer funds to help the entire county, and not just Downtown LA and the Westside…but will you come up with a new funding mechanism to promote your greater vision?
And can you at least get a Fasana Amendment (part of Measure J, and allowing a region’s Measure R funds to be switched from freeway to rail, or vice versa) approved as a stand-alone measure by the voters while you are in office?  You opposed Measure J, and therefore helped convince SGV voters to block the Fasana Amendment (only 64.5% of SGV voters approved Measure J).
Had Measure J passed, you could have been at the forefront of switching funds from the unpopular I-710 freeway extension through Pasadena to the popular projects of the Foothill Gold Line Extension and the Alameda Corridor East (a freight line/surface street grade-separation project of regional and even national economic importance).
2) To County Supervisor Gloria Molina, when will you, or merely “will you”, champion the Downtown Light Rail Connector Subway and other regional projects to benefit the Eastside?
Your fiscal conservatism on expanding MetroRail might be consistent with your efforts to keep our county budget balanced, but vision is also needed to expand the economy (and, secondarily, expand the county budget).  Also in question is your lingering obsession with not getting an Eastside Red Line Subway decades ago.
With a whopping 75.1 percent of East LA voters approving Measure J, don’t they deserve your full-throated support of the Downtown Light Rail Connector?  We’ve heard very few (if any) statements from you in favor of this project, which connects the Eastside Gold Line (a project which you’ve clearly described as an insufficient alternative to an Eastside Red Line Subway) to the rest of the countywide MetroRail system.
And if you don’t really think much of the Measure R/J-approved Eastside Gold Line Extension, might a Fasana Amendment be supported by you to switch that extension funding to other, more popular and defined, projects (such as the Downtown Connector, if possible, or a widening of the I-5 freeway between the I-605 and I-710)?
3) To County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the greatest supporter of Measures R and J among the County Supes, a more visionary question is to be asked of the man who once opposed, but who now champions, both the Wilshire Subway and Exposition Light Rail Line:
If a more expensive, but much more cost-effective, subway rail project option to link the San Fernando Valley (Orange Line Busway and Metrolink) with the Westside (Wilshire Subway and Expo Lines) could be promoted to pass a new Measure J, would you support it?  
With the understanding that Measure R provides $1 billion for a Valley/Westside transit project, which is only enough for a Busway, let’s rephrase the question:  if a subway to get commuters under the Sepulveda Pass in less than 10 minutes, and with stops at the SFV, UCLA/Westwood and the Wilshire/Expo Lines), proved more popular than a Busway with the voters…would you recommend it as part of an effort to promote a new Measure J?
4) To County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is usually a master consensus-builder, what would you do to long-range Metro planning to support a Measure J that would connect the future Crenshaw Line with the Wilshire Subway in the north and a direct connection to LAX and the South Bay in the south?
There’s no doubt that you’ve sorely wanted an underground (and very, very expensive) Leimart Park portion of the Crenshaw Line, but the expense and surface conditions almost guarantees this proposed underground portion of the Crenshaw Line to be against Metro grade-separation policy and past precedence.  
No one should doubt your sincerity, but have you helped or hurt consensus-building by your almost singular focus of an underground Leimert Park portion of the Crenshaw Line?  Is it even possible to intensively develop in that region as a way to justify the undergrounding of that line in the near future?  Can we bite the bullet and come up with another, above-ground Leimert Park station?
And would the extra money to build that underground portion be put to better use to connect the Crenshaw Line to other areas already considered for that line to be located underground (the Wilshire Subway and LAX connections)?
5) To County Supervisor Don Knabe, is your opposition to Measure J consistent with your political support of expediting MetroRail to LAX by 2020?
Nowhere did future planned MetroRail extensions get delayed more by the failure of Measure J than the South Bay, where Green Line extensions to LAX, to the South Bay Galleria and to Torrance would have been expedited by decades by passage of Measure J.  Of course, the South Bay had among the lowest voter support of Measure J (61.1%), but still there’s no question that the voting majority favored it.
No one suggests you want to be “the man who helped block MetroRail to the South Bay” (or to the Southeast L.A. County Cities, which now also has a delayed rail project), but the cost of connecting the Crenshaw and Green Lines will be at least $1.5 billion, with the $200 million provided by Measure R only seed money for such a major endeavor…and Measure J was the surest and quickest way to fund a MetroRail/LAX connection.
I’ve little doubt that analysis will show that a proposed underground connection of the two lines will be commuter/voter-preferred and operationally more efficient and cost-effective for all parties involved (including LA World Airports) , but that’s just my own opinion.
The most important issue to be confronted is that the cost will be at least $1.5 billion—regardless of the MetroRail/LAX connection plan—and that both Metro and LA World Airports are now working together to create that expensive-but-necessary project:
Both Metro and LA World Airports deserve our support, Supervisor Knabe, and I’ve no doubt you wish to be part of any supportive effort.  So with the near-passage of Measure J, and your Metro leadership of expediting the MetroRail/LAX connection by 2020, do you support a more defined Measure J that includes this connection as a specific earmark, or do you wish to fund that project via some other revenue-raising effort?
I again wish all of Los Angeles, including the County Board of Supervisors, a happier commute and a Healthy and Happy New Year in 2013!
(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 [email protected] . 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.)
Vol 11 Issue 1
Pub: Jan 1, 2013