Healthy Streets L.A. is Qualified for the Ballot. What Happens Next?

Healthy Streets L.A. initiative logo
Healthy Streets L.A. initiative logo

Earlier this week, backers of the Healthy Streets L.A. initiative announced that the measure had qualified to be put to L.A. City voters. What comes next is not quite so clear cut.

If approved, Healthy Streets L.A. would require that, whenever the city repaves a street, the city would re-stripe the street to comply with the city’s approved Mobility Plan. This would step up the implementation of new bus lanes and bike lanes, already approved by the city back in 2015, but largely ignored.

Healthy Streets L.A. is the brainchild of Streets for All. The initiative has been endorsed by numerous community groups, from Move L.A., Pacoima Beautiful, the Sunrise Movement, BizFed, UNITE HERE! Local 11, to the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). The measure is supported by 40 neighborhood councils. It is also endorsed by Streetsblog L.A. (See the list of endorsers.)

In June, Healthy Streets backers submitted more than a hundred thousand voter signatures. On Monday, the City Clerk confirmed that there were sufficient verified signatures to put Healthy Streets before the voters.

What comes next?

Healthy Streets did not meet the deadline for the measure to appear on the November 2022 ballot. The initiative will thus appear on a later ballot – likely the 2024 primary, though it is possible that it could be part of some unanticipated earlier special election.

Or L.A.’s City Council could take action.

The Council can bypass the election process by approving Healthy Streets L.A. outright in the next 20 days. More on this below.

The looming measure has already triggered some maneuverings among the city council, but their proposed “Mobility Plan Implementation Ordinance” (see Council File 15-0719-S26) leaves a lot to be desired.

To understand the difference between the ballot initiative and what the council is planning, first a look at how Healthy Streets L.A. requires what it requires.

For better and for worse, Healthy Streets L.A. ties facility implementation to repaving. Tying improvements to repaving is a very clear and very rigid non-negotiable non-discretionary way of drawing a line on what, at a minimum, the city will do.

Repaving is a time when changes are cheap. The street is said to “go black,” so there is no added cost to scrape and re-stripe.

(To an extent, much of the city’s recent limited bus and bike lane implementation have already been too-loosely tied to repaving. Since 2020, a couple dozen new bus and bike facilities, including the Grand Avenue bus lanes and Riverside Drive protected bike lanes, were timed to coincide with repaving. In recent years, the city’s wholly inadequate bikeway implementation mileage would have been even worse if not for modest upgrades during repaving.)

Healthy Streets L.A.’s paving-triggered incremental change is pretty slow. Many paving projects are a couple blocks here and a couple blocks there. These short stretches can take years, often decades, to add up to an extended busway or bikeway.

It’s slow. It’s ineffective.

Except it’s a whole lot faster than what L.A. currently has in place: seven years of inaction.

From 2015 through today, the approved Mobility Plan mostly sat on a shelf. And that “mostly” essentially becomes “always” in numerous council districts where electeds are overtly hostile to car-space being repurposed for transit and/or bike improvements. In recent years, these Mobility Plan-undermining councilmembers have included: Gil CedilloPaul KoretzCurren PriceDavid RyuMitch O’Farrell, and Paul Krekorian. And those are the ones the public hears about; many projects die behind closed doors. City departments have largely acquiesced to the do-little-to-nothing council. For example, last year the Transportation Department released its strategic plan committing to “Complete one major active transportation project (such as a protected bike lane on a major street) per year.” One street. One.

The inadequacies inherent in the blunt repaving approach were pointed out by Investing in Place and Los Angeles Walks in a mid-July joint statement critiquing Health Streets L.A. Their statement reads, in part:

…painting random disconnected blocks of bike lanes while our sidewalks remain cracked, our neighborhoods flood in the rain and wilt in the heat, and bus riders continue to lack seating and shelter will not get us the city that we are working toward.

If the City Council adopts the Healthy Streets L.A. Ballot Measure as written, it would be tying its mandate to the City’s resurfacing program – which is structurally flawed, unpredictable, and inequitable – meaning the ballot measure is unlikely to produce projects with the durable community and political support needed.

It also could pull attention and resources away from efforts to implement truly complete streets with shade, accessible sidewalks, bus shelters and benches, and lighting, none of which are delivered by resurfacing and restriping.

Investing in Place and L.A. Walks do acknowledge that Healthy Streets L.A. proponents’ work raised the profile of this issue before the City Council. Their statement professes support for “Council President Martinez’s plan to move this issue forward inclusively and equitably.”

In late May, just as Healthy Streets L.A. was poised to submit signatures, L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion (original version) that would have had the city adopt an ordinance “based off of” Healthy Streets L.A., and also to have city departments look into recommendations for addressing related issues:

  • “Meaningful engagement, especially with low-income residents, communities of color, and the disability rights community”
  • “A robust plan for engagement with community-based organizations to gain community input to help address local concerns regarding gentrification and displacement”
  • “A local hire program for residents of disadvantaged communities”
  • “A coordination plan to ensure other street and safety improvements such as bus shelters, street lights, crosswalks, stormwater and green infrastructure, sidewalk repair, and street trees are included as part of the Mobility Plan projects”

Corrected 8/10 6 p.m. Streetsblog missed some provisions of the amended motion, initially mischaracterizing it as non-binding.

At a June 22 joint meeting of the council’s Public Works and Transportation Committees (see committee report), several councilmembers – Bob Blumenfield, Mike Bonin, Mitch O’Farrell, and Kevin de León – modified the Martinez motion. The new version clarifies the mechanisms by which, upon resurfacing, the city would implement Mobility Plan “standard features” based on the type of network (bike, bus, pedestrian, etc.) approved in the Mobility Plan.

To some extent, councilmembers introduced some provisions that give the city a bit more flexibility, which could benefit or detract from implementation.

Authority for the General Manager, Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), General Manager, Department of City Planning (DCP), and Board of Public Works (BPW), in consultation with first responders, to jointly establish and/or revise Citywide Mobility corridors and Neighborhood Mobility Corridors. The General Managers and BPW shall consult with stakeholders prior to establishing or revising any corridor designations. The General Managers and BPW shall certify that for each segment revision, that segment has been replaced with an alternative segment of equal or greater comfort, safety, and utility for the affected class of road users.

City staff can “revise” the city’s Mobility Plan, including shifting approved facilities to “alternative segments.” Perhaps elsewhere? Out of the way? (And giving the “stakeholders” and “first responders” a more explicit early whack at the piñata sounds like an invitation for reactionaries to just keep blocking bus/bike/walk projects.)

The motion still includes a follow-on nod to equity: “equitable community engagement,” “improved coordination and equitable community engagement,” “Targeted Local Hire,” etc. Unfortunately, the city is not yet actually committing to do any of these things; they are listed as topics that city departments will look into and report back to the council. Those same city departments that failed to implement the plan for the last seven years.

The motion ends up as a sort of substitute that makes an end-run around Healthy Streets L.A.

The full council approved that revised version of the Martinez motion on July 29. The motion will yield an ordinance and some report-backs in the coming months. When the ordinance arrives back in council, there will be opportunies to amend it, for better or worse.

Meanwhile, Streets for All is pushing for the council to adopt Healthy Streets L.A. outright during the twenty day window that will close August 29. Last night, the organization sent out an alert urging supporters to contact their city councilmember – and to submit public comment on the measure’s council file (22-0910).

Can community groups and City Council come together to generate some urgency for implementing long-delayed equitable bus, bike, and walk improvements?

Will the city look busy for a while, while shrugging off the latest pressure, then return to its heel-dragging?

Will sidewalks remain cracked, neighborhoods flood in the rain and wilt in the heat, and bus riders continue to lack seating and shelter?

Will the Mobility Plan sit on the shelf past its 2035 to-do-by date?

Stay tuned.

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