10% Set Aside Passes, LADOT Makes the Case That It Needs Reform

After a lengthy debate over what would be the best way to insure that an appropriate amount of Measure R Local Return funds are spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects; the City Council ultimately voted, by an 11-3 vote, to support a 10% set-aside for "people powered transportation" from the city's Measure R funds for the 2011 fiscal year.  After that, they'll evaluate whether the city was able to spend those funds on good projects.  I can't say enough about all the people that worked hard to secure these funds, so let's hope that future Council's don't tread over the work that's been done the nearly two years since LA Walks and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition petitioned the Metro Board for a set-aside in Measure R.

But at the same time the Council debated, a sideshow developed in the witness chairs as LADOT and the Chief Legislative Analyst's office were unable to give a clear answer as to whether or not the city could spend $3.2 million on bicycle and pedestrian projects.  Doubly confusing because the Mayor's FY2011 Budget puts that number at $5.35 million because some of the funds for the 2011 Budget were collected in the current fiscal year, the tax started in August, but wasn't spent  If you don't want to scroll through the proposed budget, here's what's being proposed:

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 Regardless of whether the number is the $3.2 million that will be collected in FY 2011 or the $5.3 million that will be collected in 2010 and 2011; the LADOT seemed determined to help their critics who claimed the Department wouldn't be able to spend the funds in the next fifteen months.  Streetsblog gave a hard time to those advocating for language that would allow the LADOT to spend "up to 10%" of Measure R Local Return Funds on bicycle and pedestrian projects, which was the opposite of the intent for the set-aside; but when you have a Department that is basically arguing against giving them these funds, what else are the Council Members supposed to think?

Speaking for the LADOT was Mike Uyeno, who was joined by Maria Souza-Rountree from the Chief Legislative Analyst Office.  Time and again, Council Members asked if the LADOT would be able to spend Measure R Local Return funds that were set-aside.  Time and again, Uyeno gave an answer somewhere between "no" and "I don't know."  For example:

Councilman Paul Koretz asked:

Is there any chance at all that we’ll be unable to spend the 10% on bike and pedestrian needs.

Uyeno answered

I’m not sure. It depends what staffing becomes available. Not sure what ped. Projects are out there in the department. There’s just a lot of open ends in this anymore.

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This is the perfect example of the difference between a Department with vision, passion, and leadership and the LADOT.  While Rita Robinson wishes for magic, perhaps a spinal transfusion would be better to fix what ails this hapless department.  Without doing any research, but with a dedication to change, you could give this as an answer:

There are a lot of great projects in the upcoming Bike Plan that will be passed in 2011.  On the off chance that we can't come up with enough big projects to fill those funds, the city will use any remaining funds to make certain that the curb cuts along major corridors are ADA compliant.  We have a backlog of intersections that are unpassable to our most dangerous to our most vulnerable for pedestrians, and just because they are "grandfathered" in doesn't mean they are a major safety problem.

Or you could mention matching funds for "Safe Routes to Schools" grants.  Or you could discuss better signage for bike paths.  Or you could say "we'll fund the bike corral and put 10,000 new bike racks on the streets."  There are literally thousands of ways to spend a couple of million dollars in this city, and to not be able to give a firm yes just show how far removed from the streets the LADOT really is. 

So congratulations and thanks to the City Council for finally dedicating some city funds for bicycling and transit, and jeers to the LADOT for, inentionally or not, undermining that effort.