No 710 Coalition: No on Measure J

The No on J Coalition at the start of their October press event. Photo: Sahra Sulaiman

(This is the third of four op/eds on Measure J that Streetsblog will publish this week. Monday, Gloria Ohland of Move L.A. made the case for Measure J and Wednesday Streetsblog Board Member Joel Epstein did the same. In between, the BRU made their case for a no vote. – DN)

Only in the car capital of the world could a proposal to build the next generation of mass transit include an enormous payout to the highway lobby. Measure J will provide $18 billion for highways. If “pro-transit” politicians, environmental, and livable communities advocates choose to ignore the fact that highways are not the future of Los Angeles, but rather our past, why should we have to pay for their misapprehension?

Today in Northeast LA and the San Gabriel Valley, $760 million, a quarter of a billion dollars from Measure R, the current 2009 ½ cent sales tax, is being dished up right now to a few contractors and developers merely to study the 4.5-mile 710 extension tunnels. It does not matter to the developers whether or not this disastrous polluting dangerous pair of tunnels is ever actually built, they are getting that money now. Measure J will extend that tax money until 2069.

This pair of 4.5 mile double-deck tunnels is being planed to run from El Sereno through Alhambra, South Pasadena, Pasadena to connect to the 210 freeway a few blocks from Huntington Hospital.

Depending on the day, and their audience, MTA has claimed these tunnels will or will not facilitate goods movement from the ports of LA and Long Beach. Goods movement means diesel trucks. MTA knows these tunnels will have to be built with Public (that’s you)/Private Partnerships. That means tolls, around $15 for each ride through the tunnels. The toll revenue will go to the Private part of the arrangement, not you. MTA claims this will reduce the terrible congestion we suffer on the 710 and through the neighborhoods at the end of the 710.

So, you will be willing to pay $15 to drive in a no-exit 4.5 mile tunnel filled with diesel trucks? No you won’t. So how will this reduce congestion? It won’t. The tunnels will bring devastation to El Sereno, Highland Park, South Pasadena, parts of Pasadena and Altadena.

Our communities will have to breathe cancer-causing exhaust venting out of the tunnels. Southeast L.A. and neighboring working class cities already suffer from truck-generated toxic pollution, and it will get worse with the planned expansion of the 710 in the south.

Furthermore when the private companies MTA is courting discover they cannot recover the $10 billion it will cost them to build these tunnels, they will cut their losses and leave Californians to pay. That would be you. Know anyone in Boston? Ask them about the Big Dig.

On days when there has been press about the trucks in the tunnels, MTA claims there will be no trucks in the tunnels. The trucks, they claim, turn east to get on the 5. They don’t. But then truth is not an MTA habit. So why are we spending this much on a tunnel again?

Oh wait, jobs, the refuge of all politics. Say jobs and everyone falls over. The jobs that the Measure J supporters keep talking about are already being handed out to the men in a few large construction, engineering, and real estate corporations: JMB, Century Plaza, Westfield, Parsons Brinkerhoff, AEG. These are campaign donors, and are funding support for Measure J. CH2M Hill is a multi-billion dollar construction and engineering firm existing on taxpayer money, public contracts, and enormous military contracts.

They gave generously to the Measure J campaign, and coincidentally are contracted by MTA for $37 million to perform the already flawed environmental study for the 710 Tunnel. Those are the jobs Measure J will bring to Los Angeles. This is massive corporate welfare funded by a sales tax.

We know from experience that MTA simply cannot be trusted with our tax dollars. Like so many other communities from South LA to East LA, we have confronted repeated disrespect and fiction from the MTA. The agency refuses to acknowledge the 710 tunnels are about contracts, huge trucking fleets, and shipping companies connected to the ports. There are better ways to move cargo from the ports quickly, easily, without diesel, and for a fraction of the cost of the tunnels.

Since 2009, when billions of dollars in Measure R sales taxes began to flow into MTA, bus service, the most practical, cost efficient, flexible way to move people, has been cut by one million hours annually. MTA has implemented an unnecessary 20% fare hike in the middle of the worst economic crisis in decades, driving down overall transit ridership despite a massive increase in demand for mass transit nationally.

As Streetsblog readers know, we cannot have more freeways in Los Angeles. As we have grown, any freeway built, or widened, or expanded in the past ten years has become instantly congested. Freeway expansion exacerbates traffic congestion. Why then should we give MTA $18 billion more for highway projects?

With pollution growing, cancer rates climbing, and the climate changing swiftly, it is time for us to change too. Measure J is a backward- looking investment in freeways. MTA: before we give you another huge pile of our money until 2069, show us how the tax revenue you already have can carry us all together into a Los Angeles future, with modern, clean-burning, swift, affordable, flexible transit everywhere, accessible to everyone.

Vote No on Measure J.