Pasadena Star News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Wrong on Measure R in 2008, Wrong on Extending It Today

Four Years ago, a pair of newspapers in the San Gabriel Valley opposed the passage of Measure R, a county wide transportation sales tax initiative that ultimately earned nearly 70% of the vote county-wide.  The Pasadena Star-News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune, both owned by the same company, followed the lead of their local elected officials and loudly urged voters to reject the sales tax increase citing that there would be no benefit to the San Gabriel Valley despite the money promised for a Gold Line Extension, 710 Big Dig studies, local return dollars, and other projects.

2008 Caption: This group of middle-aged and retirement age politicians wants you to vote against transit the Measure R transit sales tax.

The pols and papers may have led, but few people followed.  The San Gabriel Valley vote count was similar to the rest of the county with nearly two out of every three voters supporting the sales tax increase.

Now the papers are bringing the band back together.  Following Mayor Villaraigosa’s announcement that he would be pushing an indefinite increase to the length of the thirty year sales tax on this fall’s ballot, both papers printed identical editorials slamming the plan as unnecessarily tying the hands of future generations.

Over half of the editorial is a recap of the battle over Measure R and an update on Metro, on Villaraigosa’s urging, beginning a push to get the extension on the fall ballot.  After the jump, we’ll look at the second part of the editorial, laying out their reasons for opposing the increase.  Read the Pasadena Star News editorial here and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune version here.

But the voters’ approval of the measure has mostly paid off. The long-term commitment to sales tax through Measure R jump-started a host of transportation projects that will have a profound impact on the region’s traffic, from the Subway to the Sea to the extension of the Orange Line busway. But no one should rush to judgement about what the Angelenos of the future will need or want to fund.

2008 Caption: Meanwhile, this group of future political leaders want to build transit now, and is willing ti pay for it.

Translation: we were wrong about the need for a sales tax funding transit projects four years ago, but we’re right that we shouldn’t extend the same tax to bring more of the same sorts of projects to construction.

Villaraigosa well may be right about the future that metropolitan Los Angeles chooses for itself in the decades to come – but he is also presuming a lot to take the power out of the elected officials of 2039.

The last sentence of the previous paragraph and this paragraph are a terrific indictment of the entire tax system.  Villaraigosa is proposing to increase the transit tax length so that the county can build more transit projects at a faster pace.  Building any transportation project takes power out of future political leaders and generations hands.  Building the Big Dig 71 project will doom future generations to a never ending tide of truck traffic.  Building the High Desert Corridor will open the flood gates for sprawl development, hampering future generations’ ability to a quiet, rural lifestyle.  Pretty much the only project that won’t have a lasting impact is the widening of the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass.  The largest impact on congestion from that project will likely be the day construction stops and the construction-related delays go away.

Who knows if we’ll even need transportation plans then? We may already be colonizing the moon, or teleporting from place to place, or too busy dealing with the zombie apocalypse to think about more roads and trains.

I do.  We will need transportation plans in 2039.  We won’t have colonized the moon.  We won’t have teleports.  There won’t be a zombie apocalypse.  Good news, if any of these scenarios are true, there either won’t be anyone to care about the sales tax increase or our cost of living will be so low due to the elimination of transportation costs that a half cent-sale tax will seem inconsequential.

It’s wise for leaders to consider the long term in their policies, but this smacks more of legacy building than wise stewardship. If he wants to lay the groundwork for future L.A. sustainability, Villaraigosa ought to be thinking more about the long-term future of his own city. That’s something that very well might expire before 2039.

There is little doubt that Villaraigosa’s legacy as Mayor is tied to this sales tax plan in many ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the plan is bad.  The good news is the wisdom of Gloria Molina, John Fasana and soon-to-be Metro Chair Mike Antonovich won’t have final say on this proposal, the voters will.  Those three Board Members joined the papers in a losing quest to beat Measure R four years ago.  History could repeat itself this time around.

Read more:

  • Mark

    Inter-generational warfare! I’ve known some pretty hip and progressive older politicians and elected officials in my day. 

  • LAofAnaheim

    Does the SGV understand where the $750 million came from to build the Gold Line extension to Asuza?

  • Sirinya Tritipeskul

    This may be completely off-topic but I like to think that the SGV politicans made hand-drawn signs directly in response to our hand-drawn signs (“Pirates for Traffic Relief”; Wilshire Subway: Yes on R”)

  • On a more serious note, I am actually a bit concerned about our prolongued reliance on sales tax revenue to pay for transportation improvements around LA County, but for different reasons than those cited by the Pasadena Star News. Hear me out on this. I think many readers of Streetsblog see how we have been backed into a corner. There is stubborn resistance toward increasing the gas tax. Gas tax revenues have not kept pace with inflation, and this is compounded by the fact that cars have generally gotten more efficient over time (thus fewer gallons of gasoline sold). I would rather see a gas tax increase tied (at the very least) to some inflation index as well as performance-based congestion pricing fund transportation improvements instead. 

  • Dennis Hindman

    The downside of depending on a gas tax is that if you get people to walk, bicycle or use transit more, then there will be less gas taxes to fund these improvements as people will not be driving as much.

    It does make sense to tax a percentage of the pump price rather than having it at a fixed rate. Having a fixed tax rate doesn’t help the drivers at all. The annual cost of car repairs goes up when you drive on deteriorating roads.

  • Dennis Hindman

    What the San Gabriel Valley newspapers fail to understand is that a lot of the people who live there work in the Los Angeles area. The San Gabriel Valley is essentially a part of the Los Angeles region and if you make it easier to travel to Los Angeles for work, then that will make their lives easier and increase their property values.

    A reason why the subway project in expected to take 30 years to complete is that the number of capital projects more than doubled from what was presented to the voters for Measure R. There were 8 transit and 5 road projects listed on Measure R and now there are 13 transit projects and 15 road projects. Instead of keeping the subway as one of the first 13 projects to be completed as was assumed under Measure R, the Metro Board tacked on another 15 projects. So now Mayor Villaraigosa is wanting to ask the voters to extend the Measure R tax because Metro decided to lengthen the time to finish the subway by distributing the sales tax over many more projects. It’s as if you are telling voters that you have created too many projects to complete the subway in the near future and so you need more money three and a half years after they voted for these improvement to be built.

  • Davistrain

    I remember discussing Measure “R” with fellow SGV residents during the 2008 election campaign season.  Many of them were convinced that it was a scheme to suck money out of our Valley and shovel it into the City of Los Angeles.  They couldn’t believe that some of the $$$ were going to fund the Gold Line Foothill Extension.  Then there are folks from “My Generation”, who grew up with 25-cent gasoline and used cars you could buy for a few hundred bucks (and keep running yourself with no worries about passing the smog test), who would be more likely to ride a flying saucer than a Metro train or bus.

  • Matt

    ???  The Measure R Plan is the same now as it was when passed by voters.  The Metro Board did not tack on another 15 projects.  Measure R always showed the subway being completed in 2036.  Not sure where you are getting your misinformation from.

  • calwatch

    Villaraigosa want to accelerate project construction, but without any track record of acceleration delivering benefits. The Gold Line finished several months late, so much so that they made the bus service changes beforehand, cratering ridership in the area – the Expo Line finished significantly late, and only the Orange Line extension, which will get only a few thousand passengers a day for its 20 minute service, will finish on time. 

    And the San Gabriel Valley is still waiting for the Gold Line to Claremont. Measure R only took it to Azusa. David Dreier was supposed to get the train over to Claremont (with Federal funds) but that will no longer be the case since he was redistricted out. While not probably the best transportation improvement for bang on the buck, it will perform in the top half of modern light rail lines and be better than some of the Measure R duds like the West Santa Ana Branch.

  • calwatch

    While I may agree the unfortunate thing is that you have millions of people underwater on their mortgages, stuck in places with almost 20% unemployment like Temecula and Moreno Valley. If they have jobs they are probably paying the mortgage just for personal pride, since financially it doesn’t make sense. Now a gas tax will hurt, but a VMT would just send them off a cliff and into bankruptcy. While ultimately the outer fringes need to be made sustainable, it isn’t at tremendous human cost to hundreds of thousands of families out there. Many of these families vote. 

    This is especially the case when the gas tax goes to transit projects, when the car owners complain about a diversion of funding, never mind the fact that maintenance of roadways keeps going up. A sales tax hurts everybody when they buy something. It is regressive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the rich do not use 100 times the amount of transportation that a 25% percentile person uses, 

  • calwatch

    And where is the money to take it to Claremont?

  • Anonymous

    Matt you are absolutely correct. I pulled out some figures that I wrote down about a month ago that were on pdf page 17 and 18 of this link to the ordinance and posted them without refering back to the document or Metro. So it wasn’t misinformation, it was me not getting my information straight before posting.

    Metro has a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog as this Times article points out, which is hampering them from keeping the same service level:,0,591963.story

    The amouunt of Metro’s rail passengers is growing, but trying to keep operational costs in line seems to be keeping the overall passenger count from growing overall, as you can see at the bottom of this Metro page for overall passenger count from last March compared to two years ago:

  • Anonymous

    Maybe they can get to La Verne?
    “The approved expenditure plan estimates the total project cost to
    complete the line to Claremont is $1.574 billion, of which $810 million
    has been allocated. The plan identifies a $764 million funding gap to
    complete construction to Claremont (the additional cost to complete the
    extension to Montclair, in San Bernardino County, will be dealt with

  • Anonymous

    Maybe where you live, but not in the home of the gearhead, the SGV.

  • Anonymous

    Peasants, how is Mike Antonovich’s former Transportation Deputy going to be able to take home 400-large if this tax isn’t extended?


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