Ballot Measure Would be a Giant Step for L.A.’s Mass Transit System

A week ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) Board held a hearing on a proposed $120-billion plan to dramatically expand mass transit throughout the region. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was on hand to support the Crenshaw Northern Extension. We have pressed for this project for several years, and so were pleased that it was included in the list of projects to be funded. However, we were disappointed that it is not scheduled to begin construction until 2049.

A little background for those not familiar with this project. The Crenshaw line is a north-south light rail line that will connect to an LAX people mover. Its northern terminus is at the Expo Line below the 10 Freeway. The proposal would extend that line north through the Mid City area and West Hollywood before terminating at the Hollywood & Highland Metro Station. I think most people would agree that it makes sense to connect the airport to the region’s top tourist destination. Hopefully, we can get this project’s timeline moved forward.

The important thing at the moment, though, is to get this plan approved on November 8th by the voters. That is not necessarily an easy thing, because all of the improvements (as currently proposed) would be funded by an extension of the existing sales tax for 18 years and an additional half-cent sales tax for at least 40 years, boosting the county’s base sales tax rate to 9.5-percent. The measure must be supported by two-thirds of the electorate.

In the past, L.A. voters have been supportive of mass transit, passing Measure R in 2008, and more recently, falling just short of the needed votes for Measure J in 2012, gaining 66.1-percent in support but needing 66.7-percent.

The new initiative calls for highway improvements as well as a dozen mass transit projects that would double our existing system. Having a transit system that gets people to where they want to go is key to the economic future of this region. It is also key to having a livable city.

One of the criticisms we often hear from opponents of mass transit expenditures is that the system doesn’t take people where they want to go – despite the fact that METRO is currently building five lines, more than any other place in the country. This new measure will expand the system even further. The sooner we get started on this expansion, the sooner there will be a system that gets people to more destinations.

The METRO network is the key to dealing with growth issues in the region, and is the only solution that I have heard from any source that makes sense. As is currently happening in Hollywood, future development would be encouraged in close proximity to transit stations. Yes, that may require up-zoning in areas near the stations, but by focusing development there, it also allows the City to preserve existing single-family neighborhoods elsewhere. As the system is built-out, residents will be able to utilize mass transit to get around. It is true that people will still have cars and use them, but by orders of magnitude, we will see significant improvement as the system is expanded.

There are three general suggestions to handle growth that I have heard that do not make sense. Some people suggest that we merely concentrate all development in Downtown L.A., but that is not an answer for growth. This region is so vast and spread out that you cannot accommodate all development in the center city. Besides that, if you do not encourage development within sub regions, those communities will deteriorate. New development is critical to revitalizing our neighborhoods.

The proponents of the proposed Neighborhood Integrity “no growth” Initiative don’t want increased density near transit stations. For them, the solution is to merely build-out under the current zoning citywide. The problem with that is it would spread development all over the city whether near transit or not, resulting in more congestion everywhere. Plus, you cannot justify the high cost of building a mass transit system if you cannot concentrate potential riders near the stations.

And then there are those who say they don’t care where development goes so long as it isn’t built near their neighborhoods. That is again not a solution and an abrogation of our responsibility. Development must go somewhere if we are to have a healthy economy, and it is better to have a plan than no plan at all.

Which brings us back to the Metro proposal that will likely be placed before voters this fall. There are hundreds of successful transit examples worldwide that point the way for Los Angeles. We have reached the physical limits of growth in this region. The basin is filling in. If our children are to have a future here, we have to find a way to grow and improve mobility.

Voters need to seriously consider the benefits of this expansion of our transit system and determine if those benefits justify the increase in sales taxes. Personally, I believe that the expansion is warranted. This region is on the right track, and with the support of voters we will continue in the right direction.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

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