Will Measure R+ Reach the Fall Ballot? At Least Two County Supervisors Need a Change of Heart

(Update: An earlier version of this post identified Don Knabe as voting against Measure R at the Metro Board and again at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last year.  In fact, Knabe voted for Measure R with the Supervisors but against with the Metro Board of Directors.)

With yesterday’s election in the books, it’s no longer too early to look ahead to the November 6th election day and the very real possibility that a ballot proposition to extend the Measure R transit sales tax will be on the ballot.

This team of politicians from the San Gabriel Valley fought Measure R in 2008. Will construction of their favored Gold Line Extension translate to support for extending the sales tax in 2012?

Battle lines are already being drawn as A.B. 1446, legislation allowing Metro to vote on placing the initiative on the ballot, has already cleared the Assembly.  In the coming weeks, Metro will announce a proposed project list and timeline, information on what projects would be funded by the sales tax and a list of when the current and future projects could be completed.  To nobody’s surprise, Denny Zane and Move L.A. are “bringing the band back together” that pushed Measure R in 2008.  It was Zane who coined the term “Measure R+” to describe the proposed extension.

Mesure R passed with nearly 69% of the vote in 2008.  The sales tax is currently scheduled to expire in 2039.   Passing an extension would allow for more bonding to create those projects faster and increase the number of new construction projects.  The extension would need two-thirds of the vote to pass.

But first it needs to get to the ballot.  To do that A.B. 1446 still needs to pass the State Senate and get signed by Governor Jerry Brown.  Next, the ballot initiative itself needs to be approved by the Metro Board of Directors and L.A. County Board of Supervisors before the end of the summer.

Passing the Board of Directors is probably not a big problem.  In 2008 only three members of the Metro Board of Directors opposed the sales tax, Supervisor Gloria Molina, Supervisor Don Knabe and Long Beach City Council Woman Bonnie Lowenthal.  Lowenthal has moved on to state office and was replaced by Lakewood Mayor Diane Dubois.

Two other Supervisors have signaled opposition to extending the sales tax indefinitely.  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas sent out a press release outlining his concerns with an open-ended sales tax.  Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who will be the Chair of the Board of Directors beginning in July,compared passage of an open-ended sales tax as “gang rape.

It’s unlikely Mayor Villaraigosa, who is a big supporter of the extension, would struggle to get the seven votes still needed to pass the Metro Board of Directors.  The Mayor’s office controls four positions, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has already signaled his support.  Pam O’Conner sits on the Santa Monica City Council, which recently passed a resolution in support of the sales tax extension.  Transit supporters would need to convince only one more Board Member to clear the Metro Board.

The more difficult vote will be whether the initiative can pass the the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.  Thus far, Yaroslavsky is the sole member of the Board in favor of the proposed ballot initiative with Molina and Knabe having led the battle opposing the sales tax in 2008 and Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas voicing opposition today.

For the initiative to make the ballot, it needs two Supervisors currently opposed to the initiative to change their positions.  This puts tremendous pressure on Metro staff to create a project list for the project that excites two Supervisors.  We already know what would excite Ridley-Thomas, a grade-separated Crenshaw light rail with a station at Leimert Park.  Ridley-Thomas’ predecessor voted for Measure R at the Metro Board, Board of Supervisors and the ballot box.

But that would still have the measure failing 2-3 at the Supervisor level.  Of the three remaining, only Antonovich voted for allowing Measure R on the ballot, and he is the least likely of the three to join a potential Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky alliance.

While Knabe fought the Measure in 2008, and vote against it at the Board of Directors, he did vote for putting the Measure on the ballot at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.  Knabe’s justification for the split votes was that he thought the sales tax was a bad idea (so he voted against it at Metro) but that voters should have the chance to vote on it themselves (so he voted for it at the Board of Supervisors).  In addition, he did Chair the Metro Board of Directors from July 2010 to June 2011 and may have had a change in heart in the meantime.  He has not made a public statement on the extension.

Molina is also unlikely to change positions, although a recent meeting of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments seemed open to pushing the extension despite its opposition to Measure R in 2008.  The San Gabriel Valley is a big part of Molina’s district, so she might also be persuaded with a project list that delivers for her district.