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. 

  • i know! what a meeting! my three comment cards had no chance of being included over the vociferous screaming of “Mr. Walsh”….. sigh….and the BRU!!! oh lord, what an education i had today.

  • And that’s part of what annoyed me. They could make space for another installment of the John Walsh show and couldn’t find time for any bike advocates.

  • Gloria Molina is amazing. The ridership for the eastside line doesn’t rate a subway extension. And construction is underway. And she still whines and bitches? And also I heard had to be educated about how the project list interacts with the legislation, etc. while the meeting ground to a halt. She certainly has turned out to be a disappointment.

    Amazing how things have changed. I remember when transportation was a political backwater, goods movement an obscure phrase, etc. For the BRU is must be horrifying to no longer monopolize the issue. Other voices and perspectives are coming to the fore. I so far see no substantial opposition to the tax.

  • Alan K. Weeks

    I want to compliment your summary of the Board Meeting. I was there and found it very hard to follow the action. I think the State made a fatal flaw when they set up the MTA by composing the Board of Politicans. The Board seems disfuntional to me. If the Board had been composed of people knowledgeable in Transportaion we would not have this selfish Tug of War for funding their pet projects. The MTA Board always “Kicks the can down the road” never facing up to hard decisons. The Gold Line extension should have been in the Long Range Plan for 2001. The line is ready to start constructions while the MTA holds the project back until other projects are ready to go four years from now.It is all kind of crazy to me. It is always a “freak show” with the BRU and a few other regulars.

    Alan Weeks

  • “I think the State made a fatal flaw when they set up the MTA by composing the Board of Politicans.”

    But local electeds would never allow Metro to exist without being under their thumb. The RTD and LACTC Boards were composed mostly of the appointees of various officials. The old MTA (1958-1962) had a Board appointed by the Governor. The late Pat Moser complained to me that once Governor Pat Brown appointed a campaign contributor who owned parking lots to it.

    When the ongoing RTD/LACTC feud forced the creation of Metro via a merger in 1993 the local politicians realized they had ruined the credibility of appointees by allowing the feud to happen so they said to the legislature “Let us sit on tha Board ourself”. All the key power blocks ended up on the Metro Board (County Supervisors, Mayor of L.A., other cities). Basically each composes 1/3 of the Board, so it is balanced to prevent any block from dominating Metro policy making and spending.

    Nearly all transit agency boards in California are made up of electeds. The sole exceptions are BART and AC Transit in the bay area, whose Boards are directly elected. I don’t see that happening here unless there is some horrible scandal. That is just the political reality.

  • Mr. Weeks mentions the claim that the Foothill extension is “ready to start construction”. Maybe on paper, but that whole project is atop a quicksand of soft ridership estimates that don’t stand up to scruntiny. The talk of a $300+ federal new starts funding for it is a pipedream. That is driving the hysterics of the proponents — they have to shout because by any rational measure only Pasadena to Azusa will happen anytime soon. Sooner or later they are going to have to accept this essential truth.

  • Ouch–I meant $300+ MILLION of federal new starts funding…

  • calwatch

    Dana, credible opposition will occur. It remains to be seen what ACSC will do. Certainly you have the million plus listeners of John and Ken, Doug McIntyre, Kevin James, and the other conservative talk show hosts that will talk this down. 2/3rds is a very high bar. For example, the Baca/Bratton tax also had “no substantial opposition” aside from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the aforementioned talk show hosts. It was also a high turnout, Democratic-leaning electorate (the 2004 general). It still fell 6 points short of passage. Looking at the recent 2008 Los Angeles phone tax renewal, with an electorate that has proven to be very willing to tax themselves, it still fell short of two thirds. The opposition there was HJTA and Walter Moore, but they were dealing with a more liberal electorate than LA County. And, it wasn’t a tax increase, but a continuation of an existing tax! Lucky for the City they only needed majority vote to pass.
    The measure is at the end of a VERY long ballot with President, Congress, Assembly, several judges and 11 state ballot propositions. I see voter fatigue at the end which will lead to a lot of undervotes. Once again, doing the math, about a quarter million voters in 2004 (or about 8%) failed to vote for or against the police tax.

    You need to tell the average person who drives from their home in the suburbs the average 25-30 minutes to their job in the suburbs why they should vote for the measure. Throwing 20% or less at roads is not going to do it. Baca tried to scare people with the specter of criminals coming into middle class neighborhoods, when talk radio hammered the fact that most of the money was going into the gang-infested areas that many middle class people would just write off anyway. Traffic is the same way. The majority of Angelenos do not commute to one of the big centers which will be served by rail, like Century City, Pasadena, Downtown, LAX/El Segundo, etc. Many of them drive to South Coast Metro, or Santa Clarita, or work in the factories and warehouses along the Alameda Corridor, or in one-off government buildings in Norwalk, Alhambra, Industry, Marina Del Rey, etc. What’s in it for them? With the growth of the service industry, and a lot more 24 hour activities, a lot more people these days don’t work 9-5. They might take transit on the weekends, because weekend congestion is greater. But is it worth one of the highest sales taxes in the Country? And unlike some other high tax areas, California’s income tax isn’t exactly low or nonexistent either.


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