Fri, Oct

3 County Supes become the Challenge to Extending Measure R

GETTING THERE FROM HERE - We’ve got to give credit where credit is due.  Mayor Villaraigosa really IS “the man with the plan” when it comes to drafting a 21st century transportation plan for the City of Los Angeles—both federally and locally, things have really come together for the Mayor (and for the rest of us stuck in traffic during a lousy economy).  (LINK)

Hard to believe that when Mayor Villaraigosa was inaugurated eight years ago, the Wilshire Subway to the Westside was legally and fiscally crippled, going nowhere, and the stuff of science fiction.

While Mayor Villaraigosa’s hallmark Mayoral legacy is a Wilshire Subway that was literally 100 hundred years in the making, the question must now be asked:  while the LA Mayor is a figurative Zeus holding political sway over both the City and County of Los Angeles, what do the other members of the Olympic pantheon of our county (the five-member Board of Supervisors) have in mind as their legacies?

But back to Washington for a moment:  one of the greatest achievements of this current Congress is a transportation funding bill that was years in the making. Arguably, this should have been passed during the previous jobs/stimulus-focused Congress, but with interesting allies of Republican John Mica and Democratic Barbara Boxer fighting for this bill, it’s nice to know that transportation funding will be focused on both jobs and cost-effectiveness.

Both grants and loans are coming soon to L.A., and the Washington factor of America Fast Forward is virtually a done deal.  Mayor Villaraigosa is mindful and supportive of all freeway and rail projects, but his cherished Wilshire Subway is now also virtually a done deal.  And whither the rest of the County Supervisors?

Well, this is a VERY timely question, because last Thursday the Metro Board of Directors approved an initiative that requires a two-thirds majority of L.A. County voters to extend the half-cent Measure R sales tax (often referred to as Measure R+) another 30 years.  The vote was 10-3…which sounds great until one realizes that the three dissenters were all County Supervisors, and a majority of these supervisors ALSO has to approve this initiative for the November ballot.

Those three supervisors were Don Knabe, Mike Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

No project or addition to a Measure R-approved budget can be implemented until the current Measure R-approved projects can be addressed.  Which means that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky gets pretty much what he wants—the recently-completed Orange Line Busway extension (should have been a light rail!), the partially-completed Expo Light Rail Line, a 405 freeway widening and a Wilshire Subway.

On the other hand, Supervisor Gloria Molina (who I’ve savaged repeatedly in my previous CityWatch articles, not that my sentiments are that isolated) deserves credit for her vote to extend Measure R when she’s repeatedly expressed anger and fury at never having an Eastside Red Line planned and funded.  (For the record, I’ve stated and will repeat my support for such an Eastside Red Line as part of Downtown revitalization, and wish she would push for a study on that project)

The Eastside Gold Line is a light rail line that is a poorly-received consolation to Supervisor Molina, but an expedited Downtown Light Rail Connector is a second Downtown Subway in her district that’s arguably more important than the Wilshire Subway or any other singular countywide rail project…and it will be funded by Measure R, and expedited by a Measure R+ to (hopefully) be approved by the voters this November.

Supervisor Don Knabe is a man whose principles run afoul of a Measure R that borrows from taxes to be paid by our children and grandchildren for projects that will be built today…and what reasonable person can blame him?  I sure as heck don’t want my son or daughter paying for my needs, and we’ve gotten too used to borrowing from the future on a whole host of issues.

However, Measure R+ will now only be extended for 30 years, which is different than the original plan to extend it indefinitely, and it’s a major step in addressing Supervisor Knabe’s concerns.  And the concept of expediting a Green/Crenshaw light rail line to LAX (which might involve yet another subway to connect the Westside to LAX to the South Bay) means mobility and jobs from which our children will benefit…just as we all now enjoy jobs from freeways paid for by our parents.

And there is another gem of a light rail line in Supervisor Knabe’s district that will likely be built on a delightfully-positioned Metro-owned rail line right of way in the southeast portion of L.A. County—also planned for construction via Measure R, and to be expedited by Measure R+.  This transit project (probably light rail) would, if approved by Metro, roughly parallel the I-5 freeway and offer a way for suburban residents to enjoy greater mobility.

Finally, there’s Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is hardly anti-rail…unless it’s not in his district.  For years, Supervisor Antonovich has tried to grab funds from everywhere he could, to the potential detriment of any other project in the works, to build a Foothill Gold Line to Claremont.  And while it is a project that enjoys enormous local support in the San Gabriel Valley as an alternative to the congested I-210 freeway, it’s debatable that Measure R promised a full funding of the Foothill Gold Line beyond Azusa.

As a Westsider, and a taxpayer, and someone who wants development elsewhere than on the Westside, count me in as a voter who wants this full Foothill Gold Line project built.  It’s got the potential to proceed to San Bernardino County to Ontario Airport, and it deserves some sort of action plan.  Ditto for the grade separations to the Alameda Corridor freight line needed to enhance commercial rail flow, as well as the freeways in need of upgrading in the eastern half of L.A. County.

Antonovich supports the California High-Speed Rail Project, and a Las Vegas link to that project, as well as multiple Metrolink upgrades in his region.  They’re all good ideas, and are now (believe it or not!) more appropriate and cost-effective in their current planning options than they‘ve ever been.  I think that Supervisor Antonovich has not been a team player, but to the credit of the San Gabriel Valley, the other Metro Boardmembers voted in favor of Measure R+.

And speaking of team players, it hurts me to see Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, normally a consensus-builder and a team player, oppose extending Measure R and still adhering to a Leimert Park undergrounding of the Crenshaw Line despite opposition by Crenshaw Line engineers and planners.  Every dollar spent on this current Crenshaw Line project is money that could be spent to extend the line northward to its true terminus—which is the Wilshire Subway, and NOT the Expo Line (its currently-planned terminus).  

This line needs to achieve its true potential to serve and link the Mid-City, Westside, LAX and South Bay.  It is an awesome and underrated project that is a north-south equivalent of the Expo Line.  Perhaps it can be argued that if the Crenshaw Line had very high projected ridership (which it will if it extends north to the Wilshire Subway and with a more seamless linkage to LAX), the argument can be made for Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ cherished Leimert Park rail tunnel.

It’s hoped a friendly agreement can be achieved, but I fear it may not.  A rail tunnel that does not make cost-effective sense to Metro planners and engineers cannot be approved by the Metro Board, lest a precedent be set that would create demands for other regions demanding special considerations as well.

Measure R+ is now a more solid idea that now enjoys greater detail and transparency, and it deserves our support.  It is a battle to be fought in 2012, with other (some aforementioned) battles to be fought in 2013 and beyond.  

We need a majority of the Board of Supervisors to approve this measure.  The Mayor did his share…and now it’s time for the Supervisors to do theirs as well.

(Ken Alpern is a former 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. 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.)

Tags: Ken Alpern, transportation, transit, Los Angeles, Don Knabe, Mike Antonovich, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Measure R, Measure R Extension, Gloria Molina

Vol 10 Issue 53
Pub: July 3, 2012