Move L.A.: Why You Should Vote Yes on Measure J For Jobs

And what the New York Post and LACBC founder Ron Milam have to say about Los Angeles and public transit

Los Angeles County is darn big and densely populated, a complex conglomeration of neighborhoods, multi-centered, and with complicated commute patterns. It’s hard to believe policy and funding still prioritizes cars when it seems so obvious we need to make every other kind of transport easy and safe — whether by foot or bike, scooter, skateboard, bus, shuttle, car and car-sharing, rail, baby strollers, wheelchairs, carpools, neighborhood electrical vehicles.

Rail will be the backbone of that new constellation of transportation choices, providing the clean, quiet alternative to the car that can travel through and connect up all of LA’s soon-to-be-walkable-and-bikeable neighborhoods. Even as we develop more local economies with retail, services and jobs that you can walk and bike to there will be a need to travel farther — to big job centers, the beach, museums, and airports.

Measure J would accelerate construction of this rail backbone, essentially accomplishing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s much-vaunted 30-10 plan: Seven rail projects would begin within five years and be completed within 13, instead of 27 years as is currently planned. Measure J does this not by raising taxes but by extending the half-cent Measure R sales tax that voters approved in 2008 for another 30 years.

This longer revenue stream allows LA Metro to finance construction now, when the cost of financing and of construction is super low. Speeding up these projects would also accelerate the creation of 250,000 jobs, according to the private nonprofit LA County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) — at a time when unemployment in the county is painfully high (11 percent).

It is as if voters would be providing LA County with our own economic stimulus package, as the increased buying power from all those paychecks ripples out through the economy, also boosting tax revenues. While many jobs would be in transportation and construction, jobs would also be created in professional, scientific and technical services, in health care and social assistance, and in the retail sector.

In addition, Measure J would provide an additional 30 years of funding for bus and rail service — 20 percent of revenues go to bus operations and 5 percent to rail.  Measure J also means another 30 years of funding for all 88 cities and unincorporated areas of LA County — 15 percent of revenues go to the “Local Return” program that allows cities to fill potholes, synchronize traffic signals, fund local transit service, sidewalk repair and bike lanes.

Moreover, Measure J, unlike Measure R, allows the “flexing” of funds from highway projects to transit (or vice versa), with a two-thirds vote of the Metro board. It is true that Measure J also funds highway improvement projects, but these are mostly ramp and interchange improvements to fix “hotspots,” safety upgrades, grade separations for freight rail, and some carpool and truck lanes.

The centerpiece of Measure J really is the expansion of the rail system, with seven iconic projects completed between 2019 and 2025: the Green Line to LAX, the I-405 Transit Corridor, the Westside Subway Extension, Gold Line Eastside Extension, Green Line to the South Bay, West Santa Ana Transit Corridor to Cerritos, and the Regional Connector, which connects rail lines in downtown LA to provide “one-seat rides” from the beaches to the inland valleys.

By 2025. That’s WOW! With a cost that is estimated, by LAEDC, to be about $25 per person per year.

Measure J has been endorsed by the county’s major environmental and community organizations, business organizations, labor, and city councils: from the American Lung Association of California to the Sierra Club, the LA Area Chamber of Commerce to the LA County Bicycle Coalition, the LA/OC Building Trades and LA County Federation of Labor, the League of Conservation Voters and CicLAvia, even the LA Dodgers. And by city councils from Santa Monica to Los Angeles to South Pasadena to La Canada.

All endorsers are listed on the Measure J website.

Passage of Measure R in 2008 ushered in a new era of transportation choices — making it possible to double the size of the rail system and the number of stations in LA County in 30 years. But Measure J would usher it in with a bang, making LA County more sustainable, healthy, walkable and bikeable within our lifetimes.

Yes the bureaucratic machinery is still focused on expediting car travel, but cities and agencies have begun acknowledging that people are demanding more transportation and housing choices — changes brought about by shifting demographics, rising gas prices, terrible traffic and air quality, concerns about the Middle East and climate change.

LA DOT has a study underway — to be completed in six months — to create multi-modal levels of service enabling routine consideration of the ease and safety of people traveling on foot and by bike. LA Metro has begun creating a strategic plan for first-mile last-mile connections to the county’s stations — now just 100 but soon 200.

Even the Southern California Association of Governments, an agency not known for progressive planning, passed a regional transportation plan and “sustainable communities strategy” (RTP/SCS) this year that got this headline in The Atlantic Cities: “Is SoCal America’s Next Environmental Success Story?”

California Senate President Darrell Steinberg and California Endowment CEO Robert Ross were so impressed with the RTP/SCS they came to SCAG in person to urge passage by the Regional Council. This plan — which would increase regional bike/ped funding by 350 percent — was adopted, unanimously.

The rest of the country is watching LA’s transformation: A recent headline in the New York Post claimed “Los Angeles is the future . . . check yourself New York!”: This has been a “decade that saw the city grow in all sorts of exciting and impressive ways,” Andy Wang and David Landsel write. “A decade of building real transit. (For the first time in generations you will soon be able to travel by rail between Downtown and Santa Monica; soon after expect a subway stop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.) Of creating truly walkable neighborhoods.”

As an aside, the LA County Bicycle Coalition was created in my office, when the national nonprofit I was working for offered to share office space in the belief that robust bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure was necessary to make the public transportation system work. How else could the rail system “extend” service into neighborhoods and serve the most residents?

I had lunch with LACBC founder Ron Milam a few months ago, and as always he tried to provoke. We were talking about Measure J and debating the best ways to fix LA County’s transportation situation — whether rail, bus, car-sharing, cell phone apps, bikes, more walkability or what — and he said, “Do you really still believe that rail is the answer? Really?

I’ve continued to ponder that question as we double-down on Measure J, and I have to say that I deeply believe the answer is yes — that rail is an essential component of a larger transportation ecosystem (for lack of a better word), that includes all of the alternatives listed up above as well as others that haven’t even been invented yet.

Smart mobility hubs, cell phone apps providing for informal carpools, arrangements allowing you to rent out your own car — we’re only just beginning to imagine a wealth of other choices. Consultants hired by LA Metro to develop a first-mile last-mile strategic plan talked about the importance of new alternatives that could more closely follow “desire lines” and “elephant paths” instead of street grids.

During the national Rail~volution conference in Hollywood last month, a transportation planner from Sri Lanka stayed at my house. I live in Mount Washington close to a Gold Line station, and during his stay here he traveled everywhere by train — visiting Long Beach, Santa Monica, Pasadena and El Monte.

As I rode with him to catch the Flyaway Bus to LAX I asked him what his major takeway was about Los Angeles. He said that he found it remarkably easy to get around. So we are making progress. It’s easy to see why the nation is watching us.

(This is the first of a four part series of op/eds for and against Measure J.)

  • Lee

    Lots of good reasons to vote for Measure J and one good reason not to, because it doesn’t help me.  Perhaps it’s the fault of the underserved millions for not being able to afford a home in Santa Monica or a Beach City.  But since we don’t get rail and improved neighborhoods, then we shouldn’t have to pay for those who do.  We will see in a week if 2/3rds of the county likes paying for a few hundred thousand to have essentially free transporation while the rest of us pay for gas. 

  • Roadblock

    It’s not just about you. What about people who will be served by the rail extension outside the city core? There are more than a few hundred thousand who are finding their way onto rail in every area the rail is reaching, every day.. and hundreds of thousands more will continue to find it if measure J passes.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Freeways can get clogged throughout the metropolitan region if there is congestion on them in the Los Angeles area. If some of the traffic on the freeways in the Los Angeles area can be off-loaded onto transit, then people traveling through or to Los Angeles for jobs or recreation from surrounding cities will also benefit.

  • Lee

    @ Dennis Hindman 
    Trickle-down economics applied to public transit.  Much in the same way most people don’t support a regressive tax system, we shouldn’t be supporting this regressive transit plan.  But since a sales tax is a regressive tax, perhaps it is fitting that most of the benefit go to the relatively few while the rest of us are told to be happy with the scarps that those few left behind.

  • Steve Herbert

    It doesn’t help you Lee until it does.

    People relocate, often to areas where transit does help them.  Expanding transit helps increase the numbers who can and do benefit from it and as pointed out, as  more people who shift to transit from their cars, the fewer people there are out in their cars adding to traffic.   Even if you are wedded to your car for your daily travels, something comes up that shifts you to a different destination that is served by transit that may make more sense to use than driving. 

    Expo phases I & II are great example of areas not well served by attractive transit options which increasingly becomes attractive as it reaches more potential riders.  

    We can’t build our way out of congestion by expanding our roads.  There’s not enough real estate available, is very costly and more capacity brings with it more cars resulting in more congestion.  It will take a combination of approaches which a key piece is to make transit and active transportation (bike & walking) more attractive, convenient and a viable option for more people to use.

  • I want to drve

    As a person who never drive, I have relocated every time I changed job
    My priority has always  been closer to job. Getting to the grocery stores, I don’t care. so long if I could just  hurl my personal shopping cart to the nearest markets within 30 minutes. Hospitals : I don’t get sick. I will worry if I do. Rent is also the factor. One time, there was an apartment that is near job and market, but the rent was so high, I ended up choose the cheaper one. That was 45 minute walking distance from work and 10 minute walking distance to Ralphs. Hospital was 20 minutes from work which was 65 minute from my apartment. Going to school at night, someone gave me the ride to UCLA
    That much to say. Measure R/J would never address the problem
    I used to live in Burbank. The rails would never help me even though the Red Line was nearby (for car drivers). I pretty much could not go anywhere. I did walk an hour to Frys. that was faster than taking buses. There are a lot activities in Burbank area, but I only go if I get the ride.
    Later I found the job in Marina Del Rey. I had to move. The rails would not help. How to get to Red Line? How to get to Marina Del Rey from Expo station? That is the place that I had to work 45 minute to work from my apartment. The rails would not help me to get to work/hospitals.
    Later, I wasn’t happy with the job. I got the job interview at Long Beach. It was pain even with Blue Line. With Expo, I would have easier time taking 733 to Expo then change to Blue line. The trick is how to get around in Long Beach. I walked instead of waiting for buses.
    My current job is at Diamond Bar. I moved to the vicinity. The future Gold Line is not going to help. Getting to various Asian shopping area at Rowland Heights is mission of impossible without a car. Does Measure R/J help? No.
    I have been in many populated dense area. I have failed to see the improvement despite couple improvement.
    It is like building couple freeways and ignore local surface streets. that is what Measure R/J are for.
    Nothing is changed even if you near the train stations. Not everything is . near train station. I am not asking for going everywhere system. That is taxi. I am not going to ask for New York system. I am just asking better system.
    It ended up we got rail, and people still have hard time around regardless where they live and work
    Measure R should never have been passed
    Measure J should not be passed
    Put the system that work for people who don’t drive
    Not because someone want to drive to rail station and their work is near train station
    That is the train ridership is low. It is even lower during non rush hour

  • Jerard Wright

    “Much in the same way most people don’t support a regressive tax system,
    we shouldn’t be supporting this regressive transit plan.  But since a
    sales tax is a regressive tax, perhaps it is fitting that most of the
    benefit go to the relatively few while the rest of us are told to be
    happy with the scarps that those few left behind.”

    In the State of California, there are exemptions on the sales tax for all people such as for Food, Housing, Utilities, Transportation and Medical care all necessities that low-income and working class need for daily life that will not be taxed under this extension of an existing sales tax. So most of the users of this system the low-income and working class will be the biggest beneficiaries of the transit system and the stable funding it provides to build out the Measure R transit network and fund the need bus and rail operations needed to move all people of colors and income brackets around LA.

  • There’s something weird about that diagram.  The accelerated completion dates look plausible, but the original completion dates don’t match the lengths of the bar.  The number of years accelerated looks like it might, so I’m guessing that those two pieces of info are right?

  • Yolo Watefah

    More money from the poor to fund highway system expansion! Yes on J!

    So, now that we’re up to 8.75% and the state and city are looking to raise sales taxes even more, the question I have is: why not just make it 50%? Fuck it, right? Balance the budget using the poorest people in the county as cash cows. Sounds like a great idea.

  • Taxpayer

    Measure R was passed with the promise Metro could deliver several rail and transit projects. Four years later, they’re back with Measure J asking for not only more money from us, but money for the next 60 years that our children and grandchildren will have to pay without any input into which projects get built and why.

    Metro currently has billions of unfunded projects they are scrambling to fund, while they are failing to secure adequate funding to maintain the systems they currently have. Some of the projects promised Measure J cannot be completed without first securing additional outside funds. They can transfer spending between highway and freeway projects so there is no guarantee any of the advertised projects will actually get built. Metro wants us to give them a multibillion dollar slush fund. This is an agency with a track record of misappropriating public dollars. Why can’t we fund one project at a time and ensure it is adequately financed and manages responsibly?

  • Taxpayer

    Metro’s own board chair is against Measure J. That alone is very telling. His reasons are that the job creation estimates are exagerated and that the projects cited aren’t going to help the majority of county residents that are being asked to foot the bill.

    Assembly Member Mike Feuer sponsored the bill that put Measure J on the ballot. He’s a westsider. Measure J is all about building the subway to the sea.

  • Taxpayer

    Supporters of Measure J cite job creation as the primary reason we need to support this measure. They fail to mention that accelerating these projects simply cannabalizes future jobs. What happens when the slush fund runs out and all the consultants and contractors (who are the biggest donors to Measure J) have their hands in an empty piggy bank.

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