Dana Gabbard: More Reasons to Vote for Measure R

(Dana Gabbard is Executive Secretary of Southern California Transit
Advocates. He is a daily bus rider and lives/works in the Wilshire
corridor/Westlake/Wilshire Center/Koreatown.  The Southern California Transit Advocates have their monthly meeting tomorrow and will feature Paul Dyson, president of
the Rail Passenger Association
of California (RailPAC).  Dyson will be discussing Proposition 1a, the High Speed Rail Bond measure.  Both Proposition 1a and Measure R have been endorsed by So.CA.TA.
)

At times as I am out and about I chance to glance down while waiting at
an intersection and noticed stamped in the sidewalk the name of the
contractor who laid the concrete, along with the year it was done.
Invariably the date is 30, 40 or (fill in the blank) years ago. In such
moment I briefly contemplate how much we are benefiting from the
investments our grandparents made in our built environment. And that in
many ways our society is based on exploiting what those who came before
us did while investing little or nothing in improving on the world as
we found it. Not only in a physical sense of allowing potholes to
remain unfilled, etc. but in our vision of the future–those who came
before us faced the future and shaped it, while we too often just allow
things to happen by happenstance.

Our chance to reverse that
trend and to seize control of Los Angeles County’s destiny will appear
on the November ballot. Measure R would impose for 30 years a 1/2%
sales tax in L.A. County dedicated to various transportation purposes
including partially funding big ticket urban rail projects like the
Purple Line extension to Westwood, Exposition light rail Phase 2, Green
Line extensions to LAX and South Bay Galleria, Crenshaw light rail
linking LAX and the Expo line and the Gold Line Foothill light rail
extension to Azusa. Plus funds for pavement and street maintenance and
a delay for at least one year of Metro’s planned 2009 fare increase.
Details are posted on the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s
website
.

Yes,
it includes money for some freeway projects. Yes, it does not include
the dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian projects many activists
wanted. And I won’t pretend I am enthused about every single item it
includes. But as Voltaire noted "The perfect is the enemy of the
good." While perhaps imperfect this measure would make possible much
that is good and it would be short sighted to reject it in service of a
narrow focus on a single element or because it doesn’t address
everything that is on our own personal wish list. Given political
realities this is the best measure we can hope for, and talk of sitting
on your hands awaiting an improved version in some future election is
foolhardy–this is likely the only chance we’ll have in the next 20
years to pass such a measure. Just contemplate that it was 5 years ago
that then state Senator Kevin Murray introduced the initial legislation
to allow an additional sales tax in L.A. County (SB 314). In the
intervening years Metro has been at work on a Long Range Plan to
identify the unfunded but much needed projects that such a tax could
make possible. And when conditions finally turned favorable for such a
tax to be passed a new bill had to be sheparded through the legislature
by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (AB 2321) to update the project list based on
Metro’s new Plan. We all witnessed the near soap opera this measure has
gone through that finally allowed it to officially be on the ballot
hardly a month before the November 4th election. If we fall short does
anyone seriously think the body politic (risk averse as it generally
is) would want to try again anytime soon? This is a do or die situation.

The arguments of the opponents as laid out in the sample ballot are
mostly misleading, myopic and mind-numbingly misguided. They cry about
no funding for the Gold Line Foothill extension past Azusa (toward
Claremont and Ontario) when the projected ridership for a light
rail line through those areas is so laughably small that puffed up talk
by local politicos of hundreds of millions in federal new starts funds
in the offing verges on the delusional. Opponents also act as if the
project priorities in Measure R are is the product of a back room deal
when it was actually done through established long range planning
processes that required vigorous technical justification whereas they
seem to feel funding the pet projects of parochial interests (light
rail along the Ventura Freeway, anyone?) is what constitutes "fair
distribution".

And if there is any doubt the opponents are out of touch they claim the
measure "rejects light rail for the Wilshire corridor". Ah, sorry but
no. During the past year Metro staff has been engaged in an
Alternatives Analysis Study for the Westside Transit Corridor Extension
per direction by their Board. All modes including light rail were
analyzed in the initial stages and light rail was found inadequate for
the projected ridership of a mass transit facility in the Wilshire
corridor. And by the way the two County supervisors, Gloria Molina and
Michael Antonovich, who signed the rebuttal argument that includes this
complaint never raised this issue in comments to the study, or indeed
submitted any comments. Talk about raising a strawman! The reason the
Wilshire project is included is it would be a tremendous boon to
regional mobility, benefiting all County residents not merely those who
happen to be among those who would use it once it was opened. By any
fair cost benefit analysis it is a necessary and prudent investment and
the many attacks against it by this motley collection of opponents
barely deserve refuting.

Lastly there is talk the current economic circumstances make this a bad
time to enact such a measure. I would argue to the contrary this is the
perfect time to do so. Crisises are opportunities in disguise, as they
allow the status quo and dogmas to be swept aside. If you have any
doubt about this, get a copy of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker which
describes the many imaginative things Robert Moses was able to do in
the depths of the Depression as federal monies flowed to build and
create jobs during the New Deal. Similarly the new paradigm we face
includes an emerging new urbanism and a growing consensus that
infrastructure investment is long overdue and vital to the economic
competitiveness of our region. The $19.9 billion in state
infrastructure bonds made possible two years ago by the passage of
Proposition 1B and the near $1 billion for regional rail projects
buried in the bullet train bonds on this current ballot (Proposition
1A, which polling indicates will pass) plus a likely new federal
involvement in building our way out of this economic disruption means
having funds to provide local match is a key to leveraging billions for
our region. Measure R for all these reasons is needed and needed now,
not some vague time in the far future. Be bold! Do the right thing!
Vote for Measure R! You won’t regret it!

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