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Sun, Apr

Passage of Measure HLA Will Empower Progressives but May Hurt Homeless

LA POLITICS

DEEGAN ON LA - The political inflection point of Measure HLA on the March 5 Primary ballot will be a referendum about progressive politics in LA. The establishment is being challenged by the anti-establishment, and a win for the measure will be a win for the continuing entrenchment by progressives into political leadership roles in Los Angeles. 

Measure HLA has become the hottest issue in the upcoming March 5 Primary. It’s one and done—there’s no November runoff. 

The “cost” of HLA may be carried by the homeless that would see homeless housing construction budgets offset by any HLA litigation in an irony where progressives want both HLA and homeless housing but may not be able to have both. In that scenario, the homeless lose. Bikers win. 

Nobody should be surprised that the establishment is being outgeneralled by the newcomers to city politics, whose current flex is promoting a “road diet” that calls for more bike and bus lanes in the city’s streets.

The last time a major “road diet” was so controversial was 2017 when “Faced with an ongoing furor over traffic congestion and so-called road diets,” Los Angeles officials announced they will restore car lanes removed from two Playa del Rey boulevards earlier this year.”

The difference between then and now, if HLA passes, is enforcement. The “teeth” that HLA adds to the existing road diet menu is that there has never been a legal mechanism to enforce it; if HLA passes that will change. 

Road diets will go from aspirational to enforceable, from a “guideline” to a “mandate” with misdemeanor status as a violation of a city ordinance. It will become the law. 

Dating back to former mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal initiative, support of progressive causes has been part of the political conversation but never, until Measure HLA (Council File: 24-0131), an element with legislative impact. Measure HLA is an outgrowth of the city’s Mobility Plan 2035 that was launched in 2015.

Creation of road diets affects everyone, on and off the road. Imagine that you’re having a health or public safety emergency and the EMT or LAPD is taking forever to reach you because they’re navigating bollards and bike lanes. Or, you’re a shop owner on a busy boulevard where the parking in front of your store has been cut in available hours to make way for a bus lane during rush hours. 

A common denominator for these scenarios is Measure HLA that asks voters to support the creation of more bike and bus lanes that are designed to slow down traffic, prioritize bikers and increase the availability of bus-only lanes during rush hour. 

The originators of HLA have added an emotional hook aimed at parents by saying it will keep children safe as they traverse sidewalks of the city because the diet will interfere with traffic speeds, calming them downward. Kissing babies has always been an effective politico behavior to get votes. 

And, significantly, the bite of the measure will allow anyone that feels the city isn’t following the mandate to sue the city. It calls for any street repair that involves more than 660 feet, which is approximately forty-four car lengths, the city must widen the adjacent sidewalk and also create a bike lane. The result could be a patchwork of 660 foot unconnected bike lanes. 

The Mayor’s plans to provide housing for the homeless, including building new housing, could be directly impacted by HLA. The City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo told the City Council that “city leaders will need to determine whether some construction projects should be shelved to make way for the bike lanes and sidewalk improvements that would be required.”

He warned them that you will be asked to make offsetting decisions, and potentially not fund other projects and priorities to meet the mandates of this measure.”  The slow drip of litigation will begin.

So, HLA is not all about child safety or slowing down traffic, or protecting bikers, or increasing dedicated bus lanes and certainly does nothing for the homeless. Those are all sidebars. It’s about power; the ability for a nascent progressive cohort to put their stamp on city governance. 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)