Transit Advocates weigh in on Measure R

Op-ed article, Daily News, October 27, 2008
(Co-authored with Dana Gabbard, my co-chair on Southern California Transit Advocates' Public and Legislative Affairs Committee.)

Our region faces a crucial decision on November 4th: Either boldly take action to shape our future or allow the shortsighted parochialism that has afflicted Los Angeles County politics for decades to continue.

We are referring to Measure R, the one-half percent sales tax for transportation that would, over 30 years, provide billions of dollars toward adding key links to our burgeoning urban rail network along with providing much need funding for highway improvements and street repairs.

The opponents of Measure R act as if the project priorities are the product of a backroom deal. In actuality, it was created through established long range planning processes over a period of several years, with inclusion on the project list requiring vigorous technical justification. State and federal regulations require that cost-benefit analysis be used to set regional priorities, and this is why certain pet projects are not included.

For example, the Foothill extension of the Gold Line to Claremont (and eventually Ontario) has very low projected ridership and would not be competitive for federal New Starts funds -- despite claims to the contrary by certain officials.

At the same time, Metro has been going through the early stages of alternatives analysis for projects in several corridors -- the Westside, Crenshaw, downtown Los Angeles, the Eastside -- which do have the potential ridership to receive federal funds, if local matching funds can be found.

This is important as infrastructure investment as part of the next economic stimulus package (a la New Deal programs in the 1930s) is being given serious consideration. We will be well poised to compete for such funds only if we offer a package of "shelf-ready" projects paired with the aforementioned local match. This could leverage billions for our region, if handled intelligently.

Contrary to claims that the current economic disruption makes this a bad time for such a tax, historical precedent suggests such periods are exactly the best time to enact a program to stimulate economic development and revitalization.

Measure R's opponents consistently claim that the distribution of funding should be based on the population and projected future growth by subregion. This ignores fundamental precepts of prioritizing by need when crafting a regional plan. The parochial shortsighted aspects of this line of reasoning is nothing more than a straw man to divert attention from the real goal, which is forcing our entire region to fund projects that are unjustified and (by any rational process) should be laid aside until they deserve reconsideration.

The persistent, petulant cry of the phrase "fair share" reminds us of a 5-year-old crying that someone else got more ice cream than they did. We frown upon such behavior when engaged in by a child; why should we tolerate it among elected officials?

The proposed extension of the Purple Line subway in the Wilshire corridor has earned special enmity from the opponents as a "pricey boondoggle" that will devour funding that could otherwise address needs in other parts of the county. What they conveniently ignore is that those benefiting from this project would not be only those living on the Westside.

For example, a recent analysis by Metro staff predicts that 22 percent of Purple Line riders would be coming from the San Gabriel Valley. And the subway's prospects to compete for federal funding is excellent under the key New Starts funding criteria.

These childish antics, engaged in by manipulative stakeholders and elected officials, have for too long dominated policy discussions in Los Angeles County. They are engaged in a thinly veiled brand of blackmail, seemingly in the hopes that from the ruins of a failed ballot measure they would gain leverage to demand the funding of their selfish wish list. They further insist that anything less than full funding for their projects somehow shortchanges their subregions, yet they are perfectly willing to force worthy projects elsewhere in the county to be shortchanged for their benefit. Equity for them is evidently a one-way street.

It is time to put an end to the nonsense of empty posturing. A "yes" vote for Measure R will send a strong message to the naysayers and double-talkers that no one believes them anymore, and that a benefit for any part of our region benefits us all. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: "Let us be touched by the better angels of our nature."

Instead of asking what Measure R does for you, ask what it will do for us. We believe it will do a lot for the entire region.

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