Measure J’s “Rejection” Was NOT an Anti-Transit Vote

Measure J Needed 2/3 of the vote to win. It didn’t get it. Analysis to come. Photo:## of Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder##

Maybe a two-thirds local threshold is just too high a bar to cross, maybe the No on J Campaign did its job too well, maybe voter turnout for the top of the ticket was too low. Whatever the reason, Measure J received “only” 64.7% of the vote last night, a full 1.95% short of the two-thirds threshold it needed to pass. “Only in California is 65% a defeat instead of a landslide victory,” wrote Denny Zane on his Facebook page. “…and that has to change.”

Measure J was a proposed extension of the 2008 Measure R sales tax that dedicated a half cent of L.A. County sales tax to transportation projects. Measure J would have extended the tax from 2039 t0 2069 allowing Metro to bond against the new revenue and “build 30 years of transit projects in 10 years.” The Measure needed the support of two-third of L.A. County voters in yesterday’s vote to pass.

There are many lessons that can be inferred from last night’s results, none of which point to a lack of support for transit expansion by L.A. County voters. We will conduct a better analysis after the election results are broken down geographically.

First, credit needs to be given to the No on J Campaign. On a shoestring budget, the group pulled together a county-wide campaign of opposition and planted stories and opinion pieces in newspapers and media outlets both large and small. The campaign also ran a grass roots effort of door knocking, phone banking and handing out literature on buses. Compare the No on J Campaign to the Bus Riders Union’s muddled “No on the 6” campaign in 2008 and their improved organization could be one reason for the small tilt in support.

For anyone who believes the Bus Riders Union is a political relic, yesterday’s win marks the second time in two years the group has expanded their coalition and pulled off a victory. Working with the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, the Beverly Hills Unified School District and the No on 710 Coalition, the BRU is showing it knows how to work with groups outside their traditional allies to pick up headlines grabbing victories. The first time would be the stopping Westside homeowners groups from exempting the entire Westside from the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit project.

Or, as the Crenshaw Subway Coalition put it on Facebook this morning, “How do you like dem apples?”

But the organized campaign against Measure J wasn’t an anti-transit one. If anything, it was an anti-highway, anti-gentrification, and pro-transit operations campaign that included an element that is also opposed to the Westside Subway. The elected officials opposed to the tax extension complained that not enough was being spent on transit in the areas they represent.

Graphic by Crenshaw Subway Coalition. Note, graphic is calling for more, not less, funds for transit

It’s an article of faith among Metro Board Members and many in the media that ballot measures need to have freeway funding to pass, but most of the opposition to Measure J was because not enough was being spent on transit projects and operations. In the San Gabriel Valley politicians were clambering for more funds for the Gold Line.

Conversely, one of the loudest groups opposing Measure J was doing so because of fears that the tax money would be spent to extend the 710 freeway, either by tunnel or highway, through the San Gabriel Valley.

In South L.A., they wanted more money for the Crenshaw Line. In the San Fernando Valley they wondered why support a transit tax after the Orange Line was built. In the San Gabriel Valley the No on 710 Coalition was fighting funds for the Big Dig. There was no opposition arguing for an 11th lane for the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass or a new carpool lane on the I-10. The only opposition to Measure J that is also opposed to a transit project and used that as a reason to fight Measure J was the Beverly Hills Unified School District, and they maintain they would support the project if there were a route that did not go under Beverly Hills High School.

Some proponents look at the nearly 65% of voters that voted for Measure J as a moral victory. After all, Proposition 30 barely received 50% of the vote and is widely being touted as proof that Californians support public education. If the voter threshold were lower, even down to what passes as a “Super Majority” in legislative houses at 60%, we would be writing a different piece today.

In the coming weeks, armchair quarterbacks will doubtless attack the Yes on J Campaign and the text of the Measure itself. Most of the criticisms of the Yes on J campaign is speculation at this point as we don’t know how their millions of dollars were spent outside of the paid media campaign. Given the huge funding advantage the Yes on J campaign had, it out fundraised the opposition campaign by $2,000,000 to $5,000 in the most recent campaign filings, many expected the Yes campaign to be more visible.

One example of the Campaign’s failure is that the difference between a “sales tax extension” and a “sales tax increase” was lost on many people. For example, when NBC 4 held a forum on Measure J on its Sunday morning talk show, neither the host nor the Measure J proponent, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce corrected the Measure J opponent who called Measure J a “new tax.” In fact, the host actually began repeating the incorrect claim.

Depending on who you talk to, the language of Measure J either went too far or not far enough.

Fiscal conservatives railed against Measure J because it extended the sales tax until 2069 or “until my children are receiving social security” as one Mother of grade-school aged children posted on Facebook. Conversely many opponents were angry the new tax didn’t actually fund anything new. While the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Los Angeles Walks both backed the measure, some on social media grumbled that the tax extension didn’t actually guarantee new funds for bicycle or pedestrian projects. We’ve already discussed the opposition by some in South L.A. because the Crenshaw Line as approved by the Metro Board runs at-grade for a certain stretch and does not have a “Leimert Park Station.”

Of course, there might not be any lesson to be learned at all as far as transit and L.A. County voter opinion is concerned.

In 2008, 3,001,783 were cast in the Measure R vote. This year, only 2,112,667 did.  It could well be that there was nothing the pro-Measure J forces could do without bigger ticket races drawing in casual voters as they did four years ago.

  • Chance

    A lot of talk about Beverly Hills (“BH”).  BH had 10k votes and got 58% approval. 10K is 0.5% of votes cast for Measure J.  We should keep things in perspective. It is our obsession with 90210 that gives these small groups of people so much press.  I would venture further and say it is our obsession with these pop-culture communities that permeates our decisions and causes us to spend a disproportional amount of our funds on those areas. 

    For example, there are 4 council districts in the City of Los Angeles which had support below the 2/3rds threshold.  Those districts totaled 217K votes or about 10% of the Measure J votes.  One district had support as low as 55%.  That 55% district is #12 and had 72K votes or 7x what Beverly Hills had.  I doubt that the people of district 12 (northwest San Fernando Valley) cared about the BH Highschool’s underground parking lot but still gave it less approval then BH.

    3 of the 4 districts in LA that did not support the Measure by 2/3rds were in the San Fernando Valley, and the Valley as a whole gave Measure J 63% approval.  That is lower then the rest of the City of LA and lower then the County as a whole.  

    Such little attention is paid to the Valley.  But it represented a little less then 1 in 6 votes cast for Measure J.  That is a low turn-out since the area has about 20% of the County’s population.  Perhaps we should start thinking about what we can do to get people north of the hill on board, Because the arguments of ‘less people driving in westwood and more jobs helps everyone’ or ‘it is the Valley’s fault why they don’t have rail’ obviously isn’t working.

    P.s.  The  4th LA City district that didn’t support J by 2/3rds was in South LA.

  • Guest

    Is Hindman really claiming it was going to cost 4 billion to build one mile of underground and a station? 
    And is Wright really suggesting that there was no hit in South LA despite the opposition campaign?I worked with the Crenshaw team at Taste of Soul and have seen the breakdown of numbers. South LA didn’t do it by themselves, just like Beverly Hills and the 710 communities didn’t do it by themselves. But collectively they did. That’s what a coalition campaign does.And in South LA despite ads on tv and in our local newspapers with black construction workers, South LA, Inglewood and Compton, a.k.a. where we black people live who have been asking Metro for more money for the Crenshaw line, had more people vote against Measure J than vote against Prop 30. It was the only place that happened, and it cost at least 1% in the countywide total.

  • Dennis Hindman


    The Crenshaw light-rail line will run 8.5 miles and is budgeted at $1.745 billion, or $205 million a mile. It’s expected to have a ridership in 2030 of 13,148 passengers.

    Expo Phase 1 is 8.6 miles long, cost $930 million to build, or $108 million a mile, and has a expected ridership of 27,000 ,or more than twice that of the Crenshaw Line. Yet the Expo Phase 1 will cost half the amount per mile of the Crenshaw Line.

    The Westside Subway Extension will run 9 miles. The anticipated cost to build it is $6.3 billion. Its expected ridership is 49,3000. That’s 3.6 times more for construction than the Crenshaw Line, but the ridership is also expected to be 3.7 times more than the Crenshaw Line.

    The 4-mile Orange Line BRT extension includes a bridge and overpass and cost $180 million to build. Which is $45 million a mile and the expected ridership in 2030 is 9,000 passengers.

    The Crenshaw light-rail line will cost 4.5 times more per mile than the Orange Line extension and yet the Orange Line is expected to carry 1.45 times more passengers per mile. The Crenshaw light-rail line is already an extremely expensive light-rail project and there should absolutely no more money devoted to it than it is already budgeted for. The idea that there is some kind of racial bias against it because it will not have a tunnel its entire length falls flat when you consider that the Orange Line is not light-rail and of its 18-mile length there is only has one grade separated section that goes over one street.

  • Guest

    A strawman argument is arguing against a point that hasn’t been made to avoid addressing the point that has. 

    Hindman said that the Crenshaw line would triple the rail line’s cost to put the train underground for a mile and add a station in response to rfrog saying Metro was stupid to not put 0.001% of $90 billion to improve the line.

    But Hindman, keep arguing that J should have promised Crenshaw nothing out of $90 billion. I’m sure you’ll win with that one. Oh wait.

  • Dennis Hindman


    Your point and rfrog’s is that building the Crenshaw Line should go over budget in order to pick-up some votes or that there is some necessity to make it completely a tunnel (which there isn’t), or perhaps that they need to add another stop at Leimert Park (if it could be added for the money allocated to it, the Metro board would probably have agreed to do that). 

    Trying to please everyones desire about these projects would increase the price dramatically over what are already high prices per mile for light-rail. County Supervisor Gloria Molina was angry that the Gold Line Extension to East LA was not completely a tunnel. Some homeowners in Cheviot Hills want the Expo Line II to be put underground. In order to get all of the projects completed under Measure R the Metro board has to stick to the original plan for the amount of money to be allocated to each one. 

    If Metro does not stick to the budget on the Crenshaw Line then there is no reason that there could not be other exceptions. Each time this happens means that funds would likely have to be taken away from other projects that are further down the schedule. The overwhelming feedback from the community  that the East San Fernando Valley transit project should be light-rail, even though there is only $170 million set-aside for it. Which is not nearly enough to make it a light-rail line. That would take at least another $1.5 billion from Metro.

    The end result of adding much more expensive constructions costs onto a finite amount of money is that you end up with fewer projects being built.

  • Dennis Hindman


    I forgot to mention another Measure Rtransit project that a lot of people assume will be light-rail and that is the San Fernando Valley I-405 corridor project. There is $1 billion for that approximately 10 mile long project which has to content with going over the Sepulveda pass. That is the last transit project on Measure R and the funds are far short of what is needed to make it light-rail in 2012 and in inflation adjusted 2039 money it will be even less likely. Measure R is only a half-cent sales tax that is not nearly enough to complete all of the transit projects as rail, let alone tunnels. 

  • Guest

    If this agency can’t take care of reasonable community needs like putting one mile underground and adding a station even with $90 billion more, it should get out of the rail building business. Even if all the projects you named added up to $5 billion, there still would be $85 billion left over! No other transit agency in the country has had that amount of money at their disposal. 

    I’ve lived in areas during construction of rail projects, including Maryland and San Francisco, and Metro approaches community concerns entirely differently. In fact, the diverse coalition that came together, which included Highland Park (710 freeway), East LA (Gold Line Extension), South LA (Crenshaw and Expo), Beverly Hills (Subway to the Sea) and bus riders shows that Metro’s dismissal of community concerns and bus riders needs finally caught up to them. It cost them $90 billion. The only surprise is that it has taken this long.

  • Jerard Wright


    Who’s writing style looks very similar to a CSC Chair. 

    CD 8,9 and 10 all had support for Measure J in the 71.9-74.3% range close the the 2008 figures.

    CD 08 71.9%
    Bernard Parks
    (Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw/Leimert Park/Jefferson Park)
    Metro Expo/Silver Lines
    Future: Crenshaw Line

    YES 36,163
    NO 14,145

    CD 09 74.3%
    Jan Perry
    (South Park/USC-Exposition Park/South Los Angeles)
    Metro Expo/Blue/Silver Lines

    YES 19,649
    NO 6,803

    CD 10 73.7%
    Herb J. Wesson, Jr.
    (Koreatown/Mid-City/Arlington Heights)
    Metro Red/Purple/Expo Lines
    Future: Crenshaw Line

    YES 35,416
    NO 12,618

  • Dennis Hindman


    If Measure J stated that Metro wanted to spend more money on several Measure R projects then there would be even less votes for its passage than it got. Its not reasonable to expect more people to vote yes to spending hundred of millions of dollars more on each of several projects there were budgeted for under Measure R.

    Measure J was not a inititive to spend $90 billion on transit only. It was to speed up the long range Measure R projects and then when those were finished the money left over could be used for other highway or transit projects to be determined by the Metro board.

  • Jeff Jacobberger

    At the state level, Prop 13 requires a 2/3 vote in the Legislature to raise taxes. At the local level, local voters must vote by 2/3 to raise taxes for a designated or special purpose. Prop 30 raised state taxes (which apparently can be done by a majority vote of the people).


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