A Clean, Green, Vertical Los Angeles – The 30/10 Love Train
(Since leaving the LA Weekly, where she did everything from review bands to serve as transportation writer, Gloria Ohland has been heavily involved in the transit reform scene. Most recently she worked with the T.O.D. advocacy group Reconnecting America. You'll be seeing more of her writing here in the very near future...DN)
Let’s be clear: The “30-10” transit plan to build nine new rail and three new bus rapid transit lines over a decade is a really big deal. That infusion of investment ($18 billion for transit capital out of a total $30 billion for capital and operations) and jobs (166,000) could jolt LA County at least part-way out of the recession. But even more importantly, the coalition that has come together in support of 30-10 – business, labor, enviros, elected officials, Metro board members – is also a big deal. Some say it’s the first time the L.A. County Congressional delegation has ever united in support of something.
And if the Move LA coalition can mobilize this “30-10” transportation and economic development game-changer what’s to stop the coalition from going even further?
I refer you to this map that was passed out at Denny Zane’s Move LA confab on Thursday at the downtown Cathedral, which was attended by some 300 people including everyone from Mayor Villaraigosa to California Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Bonnie Lowenthal. Not all the new lines on this map are funded by Measure R. But those that aren’t are either under construction or under serious consideration. Add to that the bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure that could be funded by the $6 billion of Measure R funding that’s allocated for Local Return to cities. This represents a massive investment in non-auto infrastructure. Suddenly LA looks a lot like a transit metropolis.
But there’s more: Because of SB 375 most cities in LA County will be seriously considering “going vertical” around new rail stations to reduce VMT and GHG emissions. Former Urban Partners developer Dan Rosenfeld, now deputy to Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, told the audience he thinks projects near stations should be able to move ahead “by right” if they’re green, have an affordable component, and no more than one parking space per unit. He suggested a height limit of 200 feet in neighborhoods along Wilshire, for example, and 80 feet in neighborhoods like downtown Pasadena – the same as the Moule and Polyzoides designed Del Mar Station that Rosenfeld developed.
Admittedly, 30-10 is not the perfect plan. For example, it’s expediting $10 billion for highway projects. And never mind whether you believe LA Metro will actually be able to do a good job of concurrently managing 12 new transit projects, or that we’ll be able to find the money to operate them. “It’s a little like mounting a mission to the moon and invading Europe at the same time,” Richard Little, director of USCs Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, told the audience. And it’s true that the political coalition supporting 30-10 is a little fragile, as was noted by Inglewood Councilmember Danny Tabor as well as other elected officials who won’t see rail lines getting built anywhere near their cities.
But meetings in Washington DC have intensified and the next 60-90 days are considered critical; something needs to happen before Congress adjourns for the summer. Senator Barbara Boxer, considered politically vulnerable in Southern California, is working hard to get LA the money – maybe with a bridge loan or a loan guarantee that could help leverage funding from the private sector.
The federal government appears sympathetic. And why not? L.A. County is the only place where residents have voted to tax themselves three times in order to build a transit system; in L.A. County we now pay 1.5 cents of the sales tax to transit. No other region in the U.S. has come to the federal government and been so bold as to ask for a $9 billion loan for transit and offered to pay it back. That is exactly the kind of behavior that the Obama Administration should be encouraging.
Thirty-five speakers representing the Move LA coalition were arrayed across the large room facing each other in two large half-circles, brainstorming about ways to fund the infrastructure that the U.S. so badly needs to stay competitive with countries like China, for example, which is building 46 high-speed rail lines. There were conversations about investing pension fund money from CalPERS, CalSTERS and SEIU. And allowing transportation commissions to add a $30 “congestion fee” to the cost of a car license; multiply that by the 7 million cars in LA County and it could raise $200 million a year to pay for transit operations. And by reducing parking requirements for developers who buy lifetime transit passes for their renters or buyers – providing Metro with a steady stream of money for operations as well as riders.
“Imagine how many votes we would have gotten for Measure R if voters knew that we’d build all the rail lines in 10 years,” said Zane, who moderated the day-long discussion. “If we also lowered the votes required to pass local sales tax measures from 67 percent to 55 percent it would be a new day for transportation in California.”
The gathering also provided Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with an opportunity to be triumphant. "People laughed at me when I said Los Angeles would become the cleanest, greenest U.S. city. But we could attain that goal if we go vertical and build transit villages around all the new stations,” said the Mayor. "I told President Obama that it's important that we build these new transit lines during his administration."