Overview of "It’s Time to Move LA"

For full coverage of the conference, please see my other posts: Feuer Seeks To Help LA County Help Itself , Professor Donald Shoup: How About Congestion Parking, and Villaraigosa Vows Return of "Ride Metro with the Mayor" .

The main message from yesterday’s "It’s Time to Move LA Conference" was that LA County has a major transportation funding problem, and we can’t count on anyone but ourselves to fix it. From Mayor Villaraigosa to longtime environmentalist Mary Nichols, the message was repeated over and over again...we have a congestion problem, we have the projects to fight back, but we don’t have the money to do it.

The day started off with speeches by Mary Nichols of the Air Resource Board and Phil Angelides, the former "Next Governor of California" and now the chair of the Apollo Alliance.

Nichols' speech was mostly an introduction to the issue and the dire straits in which we find ourselves. Basically, our transportation system is ineffective, pollutes too much, and we don't have the money to fix it. She also reminded the audience that close to half of the pollutants caused by transportation are from the goods movement industry.

Angelides mostly stuck to setting the stage for the kind of work it will take to fix the funding mess and what the benefits to such a fix are. The name for the "Apollo Alliance" was inspired by President Kennedy’s push to put a man on the moon. Much like the space program gave a shot to the economy, Angelides promised that doing the right thing for transportation would be a "high road to prosperity."

Next up was a panel on what opportunities exist to get more funds from the federal, state and local governments. The answer was, "not much.

Several panelists pointed out that California should have some additional clout on transportation issues. In the Senate, Barbara Boxer is Chairwoman of the committee that deals with environmental and transportation matters. In the House, NOCAL’s Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker. A strong vote by the California delegation for transportation funding should carry a lot of weight, and is something for which we all should lobby.

Closer to home, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-LA) chairs the committee that moves transportation funding bills. While he predicted the governor’s budget would be less dire than most people thought, he also bore the news, "no legislation will be signed in Sacramento, unless it’s free for the State." More on Feuer’s ideas will be posted this weekend.

Next up was Pam O’Connor, Metro’s alternative transportation loving executive director. O’Connor’s speech seemed to be thinly veiled propaganda for HOT Lanes. While she did discuss the need for different jurisdictions to work together in land use and transportation planning (even going so far as to suggest (gasp!) reaching out to Orange County), much of the talk was on the need for new funding and how our roads are underpriced.

O’Conner noted that statewide it will cost $5 billion a year to keep CA’s roads in their current condition, but the state is only spending about $2 billion on roads. She also called into question how we price transportation, "Our roads and highways are under-priced and over-used by single passenger vehicles.


Next up was David Crane, special advisor to the Governor. Crane pushed Public Private Partnerships (wait, I mean "Performance Based Infrastructure.") 90% of what Crane said can be heard on a "video blog" on the Governor’s website. Oddly, he did jump off script once to explain that we Performance Based Infrastructure financing was "like financing a film project, maybe you can relate to that." Right, because I live in LA I must make movies.

Following Crane's commercial for PBI's, was a panel debating their value as a revenue tool. The panel discussed the value of PPP’s as a project delivery system. If there’s a major project and the state can’t pay for it, a public entity will build the road and then toll people to use it. Basically, there’s no cost to the state, all construction, operations and maintenance will be paid for by the operator.

The panel stayed away from the objection most have with PPP's. Why enter into an agreement that allows another organization to turn a profit by tolling drivers." Why not toll the drivers yourself and either a) save drivers money by tolling at a lower rate (because the government body wouldn’t have to turn a profit) or b) charge as much as the private operator and turn a profit to use on some other transportation project.

Janice Cooper, of investment firm Solutions International, urged us to think of PPP’s as a project delivery system, not a revenue stream. If there’s a major project and the state can’t pay for it, a public entity will build the road and then toll people to use it. Basically, there’s no cost to the state, all construction, operations and maintenance will be paid for by the operator.

Later in the conference, David Flemming, the president of the Chamber of Commerce also pushed Public Private Partnerships, but noted that by law any PPP must be approved by the legislature. Flemming argued that we need to work to get rid of that veto because no firm will even consider proposing and doing the legwork for a PPP in California just to get turned down by a legislature dominated by special interests.

Next up was Antonio Villaraigosa. Now a lot of you know that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the mayor, for a long time I wasn’t sure why everyone seemed to see in him. While I still question some of his policies, I can now see why everyone I know likes him so much.

The Mayor gave a fiery speech that touched on a variety of different issues. From the future of the Subway to the Sea ("If there’s one place to build a subway in LA, it’s along Wilshire Boulevard") to his advocacy for better bus service ("Poor people have the right to a first class bus system:) to general transportation reform ("If you want to get out of gridlock, you have to get out of your cars"), Villaraigosa was animated and impassioned throughout the speech.

Unfortunately, he didn’t come with a plan to "Get L.A. Moving." The best he could offer was that he hasn’t supported a sales tax for gasoline because "there are a lot of options that are available and we need to look at all of them." He did add that we should all work to get a Democrat in the White House because cities get more funding when there’s a donkey in the oval office.

Following the Mayor was Metro Board Member Yvonne Burke. Burke noted that polls show people in the L.A. area are willing to do something about transportation, even if they have to pay more. She suggested that the county should add a half cent sales tax to the gas tax, mirroring news reports on the possibilities being considered by Metro.

She also discussed one area where PPP’s absolutely make sense, improving the freight infrastructure needed by trucks. There are many small routes that are (or could be) used by freight more than other drivers. Building new routes to keep trucks off traditional roads and having them pay for it makes a lot of sense to me.

Up next was a panel discussion focued on the best ways for the group to move forward. Stuart Cohen, a smart growth advocate from San Francisco, discussed how difficult it can be to build and maintain a coalition between transportation reformers, labor, environmental groups and builders based on their experiences in San Francisco. Cohen also believed that framing new revenue streams as pollution or greenhouse gas taxes will gain more traction in California than those that don't.

Later in the panel, pollster John Fairbanks backed Cohen’s claims by showing that there’s a strong base of people that will vote for anything that improves the environment, over 30% in the city. Fairbanks’ poll also showed that 82% of people will support a fee increase for transportation projects if they know it will impact their lives.

Parking expert Donald Shoup was also a part of the panel, but his interesting plan for city parking has more to do with congestion relief than with raising funds for the city.

The last panel was moderated by the main force behind the conference, Denny Zane. Zane had a diverse panel of transportation leaders and put to them the question, "can we work together on a plan to refund transportation in LA County." The response, from environmental, labor, and business leaders was a universal "yes." How that pledge plays out over the next several months remains to be seen.