LA County Board of Supervisors Passes Their Confusion on to Voters

Earlier today, the LA County Board of Supervisors, all of whom serve on the Metro Board of Directors, voted to reject placing the Metro’s proposed sales tax measure on the November 4th ballot.  The procedural vote doesn’t end the battle over the sales tax and the attached project list, although it does muddy the waters.  If the State Senate approves Metro’s request an election will still be held on the measure, it would just be held separately and concurrently with the presidential election, congressional election, and everything else on this fall’s ballot.  Confused?  So were the Supervisors.

The end result of today’s hearing is that when voters head to the polls this November, they will be presented with their normal ballot and an extra ballot that will only have the MTA’s proposed sales tax on it.  The MTA’s ballot will be printed separately, promoted separately, collected separately and counted separately than the "main" ballot that has the federal elections and all of the other ballot proposals.  Of course, none of this matters at all if the State Senate doesn’t approve Metro’s proposal, in the form of Mike Feuer’s AB 2321, in committee this Thursday and a vote of the full Senate before Monday.

Setting the table for a dramatic day, today’s vote was one of the few that happen in LA politics where we didn’t know the result before the vote actually happens.  When the Metro Board met last month, Don Knabe, one of the supervisors was at the birth of his grandson.  While that Board overwhelmingly passed the proposal the count amongst LA County Supervisors was two in favor, one opposed, one abstention and one not present.  To pass today either Gloria Molina, who abstained, or Knabe would have to vote in favor joining Supervisors Yaroslavsky or Burke.  Instead both voted with Supervisor Antonovich to reject the proposal.

The aforementioned confusion was a result of Knabe’s speech during debate.  Knabe outlined why he was planning to vote in favor of the proposal before he voted against it.  While he doesn’t support the sales tax measure, he also didn’t support the extra cost to voters of running a "concurrent" election this fall.  The estimated cost of this election is $9-$10 million dollars.  After his speech, Knabe joined Antonovich in voting against the proposal while Molina again abstained.  I actually checked with both Damien Goodmon and Steve Hymon to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood what just happened.  Knabe had actually given a speech about why his own vote didn’t make sense.

Following the proposal’s rejection, Yaroslavsky grilled the county attorney and clerk about what the "concurrent" election would look like.  After getting all of the details about how it would be confusing to voters and could limit participation the Board decided to vote again.  Knabe again stressed the extra cost to voters this proposal would bring; and then, he voted against placing it on the ballot with the rest of the elections and ballot propositions.  Maybe his speech writers and policy people don’t talk?

Molina also spoke between votes to stress that forcing the "concurrent election" was a way of fighting the sales tax proposal.  After a long speech attacking Metro’s "scheming" and "back room dealing" that created the current expenditure program; she launched into a caustic speech about how the vote would actually make a vote for or against the sales tax proposal more "special" because of the extra barriers it would create.

And for anyone keeping score at home, the words "bicycle," "pedestrian," or any word relating to them were not mentioned. 

Of course the supervisor’s actions don’t mark the end of the story.  Last month at Metro’s Board Meeting they passed an amendment giving CEO Roger Snoble the authorization to sue to get the Metro proposal on the ballot with the rest of the elections and propositions.  If Snoble executes that power, we could see a court siding with Metro and today’s vote nullified.  The County Attorney only mentioned concern that the extra proposition wouldn’t fit on the ballot or would effect the ability of the county to count the votes as a reason to reject the proposal.  Given Supervisor Molina’s speech that today’s vote was a maneuver to defeat the ballot measure by making it harder for people to vote, it would be difficult for attorney’s to defend today’s decision. 

At the end of the meeting, Damien Goodmon and representatives of the Bus Rider’s Union applauded while others looked around mystified.  The Long Strange Trip to get a sales tax measure on the ballot took another strange turn today, and we’re not yet at the finish line.  Before we find out if Metro is going to court, we’re still faced with the drama of what the State Senate is going to do later this week. 

  • The whole thing conjures up a phrase: banana oil!

  • Talk about opponents shooting themselves in the foot: With no sale tax there’s no Eastside extension past Atlantic for Gloria Molina, no Foothill Gold Line for John Fasana and Mike Antonovich, and no increase in operating funding for the BRU’s supporters. On the ballot finally or not, with “leadership” like this what are its chances of passage in November?

    For contrast, be sure to see Ken Alpern’s CityWatchLA column this week, “Time for the County Board to Act Like Grownups”.

  • This is outrageous. As if Molina is above making back room deals herself. I didn’t expect any better from Knabe and Antonovich, but still…

    At least be honest why you voted no. “I didn’t get enough guaranteed parochial money for my district and the needs of the county as a whole be damned.”

    There is no other deal in the works. A once in a generation opportunity may have been lost.

    It’s a disaster for everyone who wishes a transit alternative to the declining in quality Los Angeles car culture.

  • Hank

    This just proves were never going to get the system we all wish we had that it I’m moving north.

  • The whole Board of Supervisors needs an overhaul. Who’s bright idea was it to allow a county of 10 million people be governed by a fused executive/legislative board of only five people anyway? This isn’t Colusa County.

    We need an elected county legislature and a directly election county executive instead, as Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties have in New York. A County Executive could advocate for the needs of the county as a whole.


    It is a pretty dark day for Los Angeles County. I don’t expect any better from Antonovich or Knabe. However, Gloria Molina knew better. I hope she’s happy that she’s getting her revenge for the Eastside not getting a subway, and a lousy light rail instead. Well, now no one will get anything. The Gold Line moves to the back of the line, and there will be precious little grade separation on the Expo Line.

  • LA County as an entity goes back to the 1850’s, of course, and once included Orange and part of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. In the 1970’s, there were ideas floated for a South Bay County, Santa Clarita Valley county, and Antelope County. Would you rather see that instead? As for the County executive, voters rejected that idea when they decided that they didn’t want Zev Yaroslavsky to be the King of Los Angeles County (he has been gunning for the job of County Executive for some time, although not as openly as he once did). Although at this point, despite my distaste for Zev’s famous waffling and refusal to step out and be the first to take a position, Zev as King might actually be a good idea.

    I hope Gloria Molina is going to be happy imposing a 40% fare increase in 2009, though. This is what is going to happen if the sales tax fails. Rail construction projects have already been committed but Metro will not have money to operate them, and the structural deficit will just continue ballooning. That or the equivalent of eliminating all bus and train service on weekends, or contracting out 50% of all bus service and enduring a multi-month strike are the alternatives.

  • So logic dictates that their plan is this:
    Beat the ballot measure this year, then next year try to create another one with much more money set aside for their own projects.

    I suspect next year’s measure will be hideously, horribly designed and incapable of generating enough revenue to build a subway more than a few blocks down Wilshire.

    I think this is really short-sighted. They’re counting on being able to just create another sales tax bill in a year. Also, as I’ve argued with Damien online, I think he’s being quite naive if he really thinks next year’s sales tax bill will be anything but a worse version of this one. The most likely conclusion now is that the sales tax just won’t happen.

  • Simon – just to be clear…you don’t mean me, you mean the other guy, right?

  • Hah, yes, of course.

  • “In the 1970’s, there were ideas floated for a South Bay County, Santa Clarita Valley county, and Antelope County. Would you rather see that instead? As for the County executive, voters rejected that idea when they decided that they didn’t want Zev Yaroslavsky to be the King of Los Angeles County (he has been gunning for the job of County Executive for some time, although not as openly as he once did).”


    What I’d rather see for our county of 10 million is what I suggested. An elected County Executive instead of the appointed CEO we have now, and an expanded Board of Supervisors 15-25 members that functions as a legislature. Whole countries with the same or fewer number of people have parliaments of 150 members. Having only five people with that much power in a county of this size doesn’t work will. I realize that the County has already voted down an elected Executive and expanded board before. I still think it was the right way to go even though the proposal lost.


    When the MTA board voted, and Molina abstained, that was a warning shot.

    While I don’t believe the Gold Line was good transportation planning in theory or priority, it was always obvious to me that the deal to get the Purple and Expo lines finished were the two Gold Line extensions to buy Antonovich’s and Molina’s support and a Green Line extension to by Dana’s support. I wish they had cut that deal to save the chance at the Purple Line extension.

    As of now, we might not see anything.

  • No sales tax or other new funding measure leaves us with the default of the Draft LRTP. Over the next decade that would basically only operate the current bus and rail system (with fare increases), complete Expo to Santa Monica, and do some north-south BRT in the Valley. And even less political willingness to support projects sought by officials who opposed the sales tax.

  • Jacob

    By the way, it’s AB 2321, not AB 2821.


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