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. 

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