Dana Gabbard: More Reasons to Vote for Measure R

(Dana Gabbard is Executive Secretary of Southern California Transit Advocates. He is a daily bus rider and lives/works in the Wilshire corridor/Westlake/Wilshire Center/Koreatown.  The Southern California Transit Advocates have their monthly meeting tomorrow and will feature Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC).  Dyson will be discussing Proposition 1a, the High Speed Rail Bond measure.  Both Proposition 1a and Measure R have been endorsed by So.CA.TA.)

At times as I am out and about I chance to glance down while waiting at an intersection and noticed stamped in the sidewalk the name of the contractor who laid the concrete, along with the year it was done. Invariably the date is 30, 40 or (fill in the blank) years ago. In such moment I briefly contemplate how much we are benefiting from the investments our grandparents made in our built environment. And that in many ways our society is based on exploiting what those who came before us did while investing little or nothing in improving on the world as we found it. Not only in a physical sense of allowing potholes to remain unfilled, etc. but in our vision of the future--those who came before us faced the future and shaped it, while we too often just allow things to happen by happenstance.

Our chance to reverse that trend and to seize control of Los Angeles County's destiny will appear on the November ballot. Measure R would impose for 30 years a 1/2% sales tax in L.A. County dedicated to various transportation purposes including partially funding big ticket urban rail projects like the Purple Line extension to Westwood, Exposition light rail Phase 2, Green Line extensions to LAX and South Bay Galleria, Crenshaw light rail linking LAX and the Expo line and the Gold Line Foothill light rail extension to Azusa. Plus funds for pavement and street maintenance and a delay for at least one year of Metro's planned 2009 fare increase. Details are posted on the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's website.

Yes, it includes money for some freeway projects. Yes, it does not include the dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian projects many activists wanted. And I won't pretend I am enthused about every single item it includes. But as Voltaire noted "The perfect is the enemy of the good." While perhaps imperfect this measure would make possible much that is good and it would be short sighted to reject it in service of a narrow focus on a single element or because it doesn't address everything that is on our own personal wish list. Given political realities this is the best measure we can hope for, and talk of sitting on your hands awaiting an improved version in some future election is foolhardy--this is likely the only chance we'll have in the next 20 years to pass such a measure. Just contemplate that it was 5 years ago that then state Senator Kevin Murray introduced the initial legislation to allow an additional sales tax in L.A. County (SB 314). In the intervening years Metro has been at work on a Long Range Plan to identify the unfunded but much needed projects that such a tax could make possible. And when conditions finally turned favorable for such a tax to be passed a new bill had to be sheparded through the legislature by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (AB 2321) to update the project list based on Metro's new Plan. We all witnessed the near soap opera this measure has gone through that finally allowed it to officially be on the ballot hardly a month before the November 4th election. If we fall short does anyone seriously think the body politic (risk averse as it generally is) would want to try again anytime soon? This is a do or die situation.

The arguments of the opponents as laid out in the sample ballot are mostly misleading, myopic and mind-numbingly misguided. They cry about no funding for the Gold Line Foothill extension past Azusa (toward Claremont and Ontario) when the projected ridership for a light rail line through those areas is so laughably small that puffed up talk by local politicos of hundreds of millions in federal new starts funds in the offing verges on the delusional. Opponents also act as if the project priorities in Measure R are is the product of a back room deal when it was actually done through established long range planning processes that required vigorous technical justification whereas they seem to feel funding the pet projects of parochial interests (light rail along the Ventura Freeway, anyone?) is what constitutes "fair distribution".

And if there is any doubt the opponents are out of touch they claim the measure "rejects light rail for the Wilshire corridor". Ah, sorry but no. During the past year Metro staff has been engaged in an Alternatives Analysis Study for the Westside Transit Corridor Extension per direction by their Board. All modes including light rail were analyzed in the initial stages and light rail was found inadequate for the projected ridership of a mass transit facility in the Wilshire corridor. And by the way the two County supervisors, Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich, who signed the rebuttal argument that includes this complaint never raised this issue in comments to the study, or indeed submitted any comments. Talk about raising a strawman! The reason the Wilshire project is included is it would be a tremendous boon to regional mobility, benefiting all County residents not merely those who happen to be among those who would use it once it was opened. By any fair cost benefit analysis it is a necessary and prudent investment and the many attacks against it by this motley collection of opponents barely deserve refuting.

Lastly there is talk the current economic circumstances make this a bad time to enact such a measure. I would argue to the contrary this is the perfect time to do so. Crisises are opportunities in disguise, as they allow the status quo and dogmas to be swept aside. If you have any doubt about this, get a copy of Robert Caro's The Power Broker which describes the many imaginative things Robert Moses was able to do in the depths of the Depression as federal monies flowed to build and create jobs during the New Deal. Similarly the new paradigm we face includes an emerging new urbanism and a growing consensus that infrastructure investment is long overdue and vital to the economic competitiveness of our region. The $19.9 billion in state infrastructure bonds made possible two years ago by the passage of Proposition 1B and the near $1 billion for regional rail projects buried in the bullet train bonds on this current ballot (Proposition 1A, which polling indicates will pass) plus a likely new federal involvement in building our way out of this economic disruption means having funds to provide local match is a key to leveraging billions for our region. Measure R for all these reasons is needed and needed now, not some vague time in the far future. Be bold! Do the right thing! Vote for Measure R! You won't regret it!