City Council Endorses Sales Tax Plan

Despite opposition from several key members, the Los Angeles City Council endorsed Metro's sales tax proposal and expenditure plan.  An earlier motion called on Metro to fund certain projects, such as a streetcar for the downtown and a Green Line extension to the airport, but an amendment offered by Council Transportation Committee Chair Wendy Greuel removed those stipulations in favor of blanket support for the resolution which could increase LA City's coffers by $40 million a year in Local Return funds.

Councilman Tony Cardenas challenged the support for the sales tax plan noting that many of those Local Return funds would most likely be used by the city to fill its funding gap caused by cost overruns.  When they finally showed up to the meeting, a half hour after Cardenas first wondered where LADOT was, LADOT executive John Fisher admitted that the city has a projected yearly shortfall of $12 million in transportation projects funded by previous ballot propositions and could use Local Return funds to fill that gap.  In other words, the City of Los Angeles could be using 30% of its Local Return on projects that are already nearly funded; further reducing the potential pool of funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects.  As recently as yesterday, Metro officials have tried to assure advocates for non-motorized transportation that there will be plenty of funds for sidewalks and bicycle projects in the Local Return set aside.

Most of the Council supported the proposition, especially Bill Rosendahl.  The longtime advocate for a Green Line extension was promised by Metro CEO Roger Snoble that the plans for a Green Line extension to LAX would be accelerated and could begin construction within the next two years.  Councilman Parks, who sits on the Metro Board of Directors, also enthusiastically endorsed the sales tax and took great pains to defend it from Cardenas and others who attacked it.

Cardenas was joined in opposition to the sales tax by fellow San Fernando Valley Councilman Richard Alarcón who is still angered that a redirection of funds he allocated for a busway in his former Senate District were reallocated for the Orange Line.  Alarcón, who has repeatedly said that he doesn't trust Metro, vowed to fight the sales tax in his district without 100% guarantees that funds would be spent on the projects as promised to voters.  Metro's spokespeople were unable to offer an absolute guarantee because the authorizing legislation allows the Metro Board to change priorities by a two-thirds vote.

The resolution eventually passed by a vote of 11 to 3. 

Without Rosendahl's repeated request for a re-opened public comment, public comment was closed in a committee meeting that occurred the same time as the Transportation Committee's big bike meeting, advocates for cyclists and pedestrians would have again been shut out of the process.  As it was both myself and LACBC's Dorothy Le testified asking for the Council to back a 1% set aside for bicycle projects and another 1% for pedestrian projects.  Le's testimony must have hit home as staff for Wendy Greuel engaged in a spirited debate after her time as a public speaker expired.

Meanwhile, the petition asking Metro to allocate some of the sales tax proceeds to bicycle and pedestrian projects crossed the 100 signature line.