At the start of the public hearing  on the resolution asking the City Attorney to draft a bond measure for the May 21 that would dedicate 29 years of taxes towards road repair bonds, Council President Herb Wesson announced that the Council would not vote or debate the measure until next Tuesday. While Wesson offered praise to both sponsors of the legislation, Council Members Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, he was also concerned that there wasn’t enough public outreach or participation in the construction of the measure.
That didn’t stop a group of fifteen bicycle and pedestrian advocates and a handful of Neighborhood Council Board Members from making their case.
Not content with Englander’s promises  that the final ordinance would include improving reconstructed roads with modern crosswalks, approved bicycle projects and ADA compliant curb cuts, advocates representing the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), the Safe Routes to School’s National Partnership, Midnight Ridazz, Cyclists Inciting Change Through Live Exchange, Los Angeles Walks and independent activists from stating their case.
“We want to make sure this bond is for the future transportation system, not the past transportation system,” testified Eric Bruins, the Policy and Program Director for the LACBC. Bruins, along with other staff and volunteers from the LACBC and L.A. Walks, prepared a policy document for Council Members that can be read here .
While the majority of those testifying were bicycle advocates either LACBC staff or Midnight Ridazz organized by Don Ward, the conversation kept returning to the $1.5 billion needed to repair the city’s crumbling sidewalks.
Repeating a statistic she uses often, Jessica Meaney of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership reminded Council Members that, “Over 20% of all trips made in L.A. County are on foot or on bicycle yet it receives only 1% of funding.” Later, Meghan Kavanagh argued that, “”If we decided (funding allocations) based on mode share, $1 billion (of the bond) would go towards sidewalks.”
Or, as Deborah Murphy, the Chair of the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and Founder of Los Angeles Walks put it, “This bond could improve the state of our roads and sidewalks for all people, especially people with disabilities.”
While most Council Members refrained from commenting, President Wesson took time to thank each commenter for taking the time to come down to City Hall and even gave a bicycle shop owner a chance to plug his business. After comment was done, Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl took a moment to voice his support for bringing bicycle planning into the bond measure.
“Absolutely every aspect of cyclists issues needs to be addressed.,” Rosendahl said of the measure. “Cycling is part of the solution.”
But it wasn’t just safe streets advocates that packed into City Hall. A handful of Neighborhood Council advocates were also present to make the argument that the N.C.’s were being left out of the process.
“You guys have a lot of nerve asking us for more money,” thundered Jack Humpherville of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and contributor to City Watch. “We’re talking about 10 billion dollars (when you add in all of the bonds being proposed for the May ballot).”
In a less combative mood, Sharon Cummings, Chair of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, pointed out that it takes Neighborhood Council’s sixty days to create formal public policies on such proposals and the process for this bond is really rushed.
Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Buscaino perhaps gave more ammunition to the charge that the process is being rushed when he noted that Englander had only approached him about co-sponsoring the measure “a couple of weeks ago.” For his part, Englander promised robust outreach to Neighborhood Council’s to make certain all of the worst roads in their communities would be fixed.
Bolstering the argument that the bond is needed to repair crumbling streets, Nazario Sauceda, the General Manager of the Bureau of Street Services (BSS) presented some sobering statistics on the city’s history of road repair. Basing much of his data on a 2011 State of the Streets Report , Sauceda showed how for decades in the 1980’s and 1990’s the city was funding about half of what was needed to maintain city streets. In recent years, the city has doubled the amount so BSS can maintain city street conditions, but not improve the backlog of projects.
“We were not properly maintaining our streets,” Sauceda succinctly argued.
With current staffing, it would take about ten years to fix all of the backlogged projects, which are about 31% of city streets or 8,400 lane miles.
While Wesson and some other Council Members seem put off by the rushed timeline, there’s also no doubt that they would love to put the issue in front of the voters, and in the Council’s rearview mirror.
“Every member of this Council, when you go to community meetings, this (when is this road going to get fixed) is the question we get asked all the time,” stated Wesson.
Full Disclosure: Deborah Murphy is also an editorial board member of Los Angeles Streetsblog and Meghan Kavanagh is the wife of Santa Monica columnist Gary Kavanagh.