Let sales tax ease way for commuters

Op-ed article, Daily News, August 21, 2008

There has been a lot of political drama created in recent weeks over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision to place a measure on the November ballot that would create a one-half percent sales tax to fund myriad transportation projects over the next three decades. The measure has drawn much criticism from various politicos who have spoken in the name of "equity," which appears to be defined as "money for my district." And in the process of defining equity, they have proven that parochialism reigns higher than serving the region as a whole. To wit:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has made much of the fact that the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys are a growth area, and says the tax is unfair because the North County has no projects on the list that would be funded, should the voters approve the measure.

Nearly every elected official in the San Gabriel Valley has made a similar claim of growth, and offers that claim as proof that the tax should fund an extension of the Gold Line past the county line to Ontario Airport.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina is convinced that the Eastside was "shortchanged" when the planned Red Line subway extension was cancelled and then revived as a light-rail line.

And all of the pols insist that the proposed Purple Line subway extension is unnecessary because it would take money away from their own pet projects.

As a longtime advocate of public transportation -- and one who does not drive, but instead uses transit to go everywhere and do everything -- I believe their definition of equity is flawed, because I see a bigger picture. And that picture not only takes into account where people live, but also where they work.

I do not disagree with Antonovich that the North County is a growth area. But I also see that the people who live there largely work "down under" ... downtown Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Century City and the Westside.

This is already proven by the high demand for both Metrolink and commuter bus service to those areas from the North County. A rail line through the Sepulveda Pass, as proposed in the sales-tax measure, would connect the Metrolink service from the North County with the Westside, and provide real relief to the supervisor's constituents who are at present stuck on the 405, either in their cars or in those commuter buses.

Similar scenarios exist from the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside. People who live in those regions and work downtown, in the Miracle Mile, or on the Westside are the real reason the subway extension is needed. Those people are already forced to choose between being stuck in traffic in their own cars or being stuck in traffic on a Metro Rapid bus on Wilshire.

Either way, they deserve a faster alternative, and the current version of parochialism practiced by the elected officials in those eastern parts of the county does a collective disservice to the constituents who live there.

The San Gabriel Valley would be better served by a Gold Line extension to connect with existing Metrolink service in the vicinity of Azusa than it would by a longer extension that would become more and more duplicative with Metrolink as it moved east. The Eastside would be better served by an extension of the light-rail line that will begin service next year (sooner, and with more mileage, than the subway extension Molina favors). Both of these projects have the potential of feeding into the existing, growing network of service and move people across the region faster.

The era of people living and working in the same immediate area ended a long time ago. Equity now must take on a broader definition which realizes this. Any other definition is little more than political posturing.

I hope the sales tax measure is passed by the voters. I hope the tax raises enough money, along with state and federal matching funds, to build every project on the list and then some. If we, the electorate, do not discard the parochial arguments put forward by shortsighted elected officials, we will doom Los Angeles County to eventual, irreversible gridlock. And none of us who live -- and work -- here can afford to allow that to happen.

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