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Metro Postpones Decision on LRTP to November. Advances Sales Tax.

Unwilling to anger any key constituencies before turning around and asking them to support a sales tax increase, the Metro's Board of Directors voted to postpone a final vote on their Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), the document which outlines what projects will and won't be funded in the next 30 years, until the first meeting after the election in November. 

The Board also voted to advance the proposed half cent sales tax increase to a final Board vote in July.  The ballot measure to fund LA County transportation projects will not appear on the November ballot without the approval of the majority of the board and the state legislature.  The Assembly and some Senate committees have already approved the sales tax ballot initiative.

The votes followed more than four hours of public debate.  For more than two hours, the public made their case for their favored local project and then the Board debated amongst themselves for almost another two hours.  Despite changing the normal rules of public testimony so that the armies brought by the Bus Rider’s Union, Gold Line supporters, Expo supporters, and South Bay Council of Government were limited to ten total minutes of testimony; the public comment period expired before all that filled out cards could testify. 

If there was any question as to how the BRU would react would to the potential sales tax proposal, now we know.  They don’t like it and unless more money is going toward buses, they’re going to fight it.

On one hand, it was nice to see a rainbow of t-shirt clad activists instead of just yellow, on the other hand voices for groups such as Neighbors for Smart Rail and the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition were silenced by an over dedication to the time limit the board imposed on public comment.  Some activists, people that waited almost three hours to testify, were denied the opportunity.

It wasn’t just activists who fell victim to Beat the Clock, LA City Councilman Ed Reyes was also cut off after his allocated minute passed before he could state whether he was for or against the proposed tax increase or the LRTP.

When the Board took its turn to debate, the lack of input from cyclists couldn’t have been more clear.  While defending the proposed sales tax from opponents, both Richard Katz and Mayor Villaraigosa, when he wasn’t busy making back room deals, listed all of the potential projects municipalities could fund with their portion of the funds generated.  Neither listed any bicycle or pedestrian improvements.

Leading the fight against the half-cent sales tax increase on the board was Gloria Molina, an eastside County Supervisor.  Molina’s anger stems from a board decision years ago to bring light rail to East LA instead of a subway.  Molina contends that officials are bending over backwards to promote the Subway to the Sea, even changing laws that were passed to bar an east side subway, to make certain that the Subway to the Sea becomes a reality.

Molina’s efforts to stop the sales tax ballot measure ultimately fell short, only Long Beach Council Member Bonnie Lowenthal and fellow County Supervisor Don Knabe voted against the proposal.  Molina had to leave the meeting before the vote.

After the sales tax proposal was moved to a final for the July meeting, it was now time for the board to debate the Long Term Transportation Plan. 

Realizing that there was no way that a vote on the LRTP would make everyone happy, Director Richard Katz moved to postpone the vote on the plan until after we knew the fate of the half-cent gas tax increase at the polls.  If it passed, there would be a lot more projects that could be funded so there was no need for Metro to debate what it can and cannot fund today.  The plan to postpone the plan was approved with near unanimous support.

But the controversy wasn’t over yet, Duarte City Council Member John Fasana made a motion that the Metro Board guarantee funding for a Gold Line extension to Azusa.  Fasana argued that San Gabriel Valley has long been ignored when it’s time to distribute transit dollars and that a show of support for the Gold Line would make Valley residents more likely to support the sales tax increase at the ballot this fall.  It was a strange argument, it seemed that the director was saying that if you guarantee Gold Line supporters funding for an extension, they’re more likely to vote to tax themselves for other people’s projects.

The vote to fund the Gold Line extension to Azusa was eventually also tabled until the first Board Meeting after the November election.

All in all, it was a very strange meeting.  After hours of debate and presentations, the Board basically voted to vote later on the LRTP and on whether or not to place the sales tax on the fall ballot.  The sales tax increase proposal must also be approved by the State Senate before it can be placed on the fall ballot.

Anyone that wants to read more about the meeting, the Bottleneck Blog also has a great write-up of the meeting. 

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