Among many expansions to light rail and buses and improvements to several key freeways, some of the most talked-about improvements so far are connecting Metro rail to Los Angeles International Airport, bringing the Purple Line into Westwood, and creating an underground corridor through the Sepulveda Pass to connect the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley to that Purple Line extension in Westwood. But Metro is going to need some help from the taxpayers in making this plan a reality, so Metro’s board approved a ballot measure to raise the sale tax by half a cent in Los Angeles County in the hopes that voters will approve it to help fund the project. The sales tax would last until voters decide to end it.
Measure M supporters like Mayor Eric Garcetti say the sales tax hike is modest, passing the plan would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it would help fast-track improvements to L.A.’s public transit system, which despite recent improvements like the Gold Line extension and opening the Expo Line to Santa Monica, still leaves much to be desired when compared to public transit in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and even San Francisco.
Among their arguments, opponents say that the sales tax hike could continue on forever if there's no countywide vote held to repeal it and that many of the projects financed by Measure M favor Los Angeles and not riders who live in other cities in L.A. County. They add that Metro has passed sales tax increases in past years and many of the projects they claimed would be built with the revenue have yet to be completed.
We talked with 'Yes on M' spokesman Yusef Robb and No on M' spokesman Damien Goodmon about what they say voters should know before going to vote.
Why should voters support half cent sales tax?
Yusef Robb: The Los Angeles County population is growing by 2.3 million. Measure M would add transit, improve our freeways, fix our local roads, and create jobs to deal with that growth. The alternative is 2.3 million people on our buses, on our trains, on our freeways, and on our roads, and we can watch all of that grind to a halt, along with our economy. We have to be prepared, we have to ease our congestion, we need more jobs, and Measure M is the only way to do it. It delivers a comprehensive traffic improvement plan whether it’s our freeways, whether it’s light rail, whether it’s subway, whether it’s buses, we need this and we need it now.
What are some of the first decade projects to expect if M passes?
YR: A new LAX station that ties three lines directly to the airport will make a big difference in the South Bay, the Westside, and along the breadth of the 105 and the 10. There are I-5 improvements, improvements to the 14, a Gold Line extension in Claremont, improvements to the Orange Line in San Fernando Valley, a new 20 mile rail line linking downtown L.A.to Artesia and connecting all of the southeast cities that Damien is talking about. That is delivered by Measure M. Improvements to the 71, to the 57 and the 60, to the 710, not to mention bike path and L.A. River plans that extend 50 miles. This is a countywide, comprehensive approach, and if you want to talk about politics, no one has an incentive to add to the gridlock in Los Angeles County. Metro delivers 1.4 million rides a day in Los Angeles County. Imagine what traffic would be like without those 1.4 million rides.
What are the biggest negatives on Measure M?
Damien Goodmon: We know what the very expensive, paid-for-by-mega-contractors ads on TV are saying, and it’s just not the case. The reality is that Measure M would be a permanent half cent sales tax increase until 2039, increasing to once cent from 2039 until forever, and the promises made by Metro and the Yes on M campaign are false. Let’s disabuse ourselves of this belief that Metro is this unbiased transportation agency that takes a look at transportation problems and proposes solutions. Metro has proposed in Measure M, and this is largely the reason why low-income communities and communities south of the 10 Freeway are opposed to it, a plan that is heavily-weighted on the Westside and the Valley, a plan that’s not predicated on traffic or transportation needs, but a plan that’s based upon politics. Metro has compiled, just since Measure R was passed in 2008, over $1 billion in cost overruns. That’s a product of them making poor decisions. When you look at the fact that we’ve spent billions of dollars on expanding our transportation system and yet ridership is down 47 percent relative to before we began building them, you begin to understand why our traffic [problem] remains the same in Los Angeles County. Measure M is not a proposed solution to that. We are not a transportation agency, but we are a group of people who can recognize the bad nature of a blank check, which is what a forever tax is.
So what's the alternative?
DG: The bottom line is that the first rule is you don't reward bad behavior. They're already getting 1.5 percent of our sales tax. Let's first have them make a fair assessment about why, after receiving so much of our sales tax, including state and federal revenue, traffic is worse.
TV commercials supporting M say it would decrease traffic by 15 percent. Is that 15 percent over projected traffic in future or 15 percent vs. today?
YR: That number applies to what we’re looking at when the projects in this measure are completed. This was a study done by Metro, not by the campaign. This is the most conservative estimate possible. It leaves out a full 20 percent of the measure. It actually only looked at selected number of projects from the measure. The fact that we put it in our ads means it’s a very meaningful number to people. When the most conservative estimate is a 15 percent reduction in the traffic we’ll see here in Los Angeles County, that’s a very meaningful thing for people. It’s more time for your families, it gets you to work faster, it gives you time back.
DG: KPCC, the L.A. Times, and other people have completely debunked this number. But what Yusef isn’t talking about are these start dates. That 15 percent number is a projected number in the year 2057. I’m a young man, but in 2057 I’ll be lucky to still be alive. Most of our listeners won’t be alive. It’s a projected number. It projects on the basis of all the projects that are promised within Measure M being built. We know that every number of years, and now it’s been every four years – 2008, 2012, 2016 – Metro comes up with a plan and comes to voters to ask for more money. They keep asking for money for the same plans. If you look at half cent sales tax Metro is getting right now from 1980 and/or the map to the half cent Measure C which was passed in 1990. If you look at the projects on those maps, you see something familiar: the same projects being proposed today. So my question to voters is: we’ve given them half cent sales tax increases several times and still, several of the projects are not built. How much will be enough? Will it be a sales tax at 11 percent? At 12? At 15 or 20? How much will be enough before they can actually begin delivering the projects they promise?
Yusef Robb, spokesman for ‘Yes on M’ campaign
Damien Goodmon, spokesman for ‘No on M’ Coalition and executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition
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