Sun, Jul

‘R’ You Ready to Fix Our Roads?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE - No one with a car (or an operative sense of vision) doubts that the roads of Los Angeles are decades overdue in their need for maintenance and repair.  Ditto for the sidewalks, parks, water/sewage infrastructure and the entire LA Planning process.  However, paying for our roads requires a workable plan that the voters and taxpayers will support.

With that in mind, it must be concluded that Mayor Villaraigosa’s LA Road Works Plan, which involves repairing nearly one-fourth of LA’s worst streets in 2-3 years by borrowing 27 years’ worth of Measure R sales tax revenue, is merit-worthy with respect to its consideration of using a guaranteed funding source for a bonafide transportation problem, but it is too premature and is best dealt with by a better (and available!) funding mechanism.

What is that funding mechanism?  Well, a combination of local sales, business and property taxes come to mind, and a defined list of streets to be repaired and a defined business plan to spend the revenue also comes to mind.  That’s what got Measure R passed, that’s what keeps Measure R still popular with the voters (despite voters’ desire NOT to pay taxes), and that’s what would get this new funding measure passed by the L.A. City Council.

I need to remind you all that I am probably one of the more fiscally conservative CityWatch writers, and that I share the concerns that other CityWatch writers have raised about Mayor Villaraigosa’s political and personal gaffes.  

Heck, I suspect even Mayor Villaraigosa shares the concerns about his political and personal gaffes, but it’s just factually and intellectually wrong to dismiss the valid bully pulpit he’s used for the past seven years to address our transportation and education shortcomings, and which will certainly be something the history books will write about with our current Mayor.

Years ago (long before Measure R), I came up with a list of road and rail projects that I entitled “How LA County Saves Itself”, and whether it worked its way through the political world or whether the political world independently came to the same conclusion, Measure R was passed.  It was both technically and politically vetted, and it worked.

So, too, would a “How LA City Saves Itself” list of road, rail and other projects be popular if it was vetted by the LADOT, Planning, the Neighborhood Councils and by the City Council.  Yes, it would involve some sort of tax revenue, but it would be well-defined, not “pie in the sky” stuff, not just inefficient “public sector job creation”, and fall under the category of having tax revenue go to where it’s needed and to what the voters and taxpayers want.

Pension and budget reform is critical to be enacted right away before any tax revenue would be raised, because the voters and taxpayers are feeling fiscally and emotionally tapped out.  To those enthralled and behold to the public sector unions that have trashed both the credibility of the public sector and the fiscal well-being of the tax base, it should be reminded that Ohio’s public sector union victory is occurring at a time when Governor Brown of California is promoting big time pension reform.

So to those public sector employees, and to those public sector employee wannabees, it would be best to be realistic and figure out how to use public investment on time, on target and on budget rather than find a way to kick some tail at the expense of a beleaguered tax base.  Everybody needs to grow up, and deal with it.

What key improvements would a putative LA Road Works or “LA Fast Forward” program need to address in order to pass muster with the City Council and/or the voters?

First, it would have to throttle back the need to use the full 27 years of Measure R funds, because by 27 years the roads will again need repair, and future political leaders shouldn't be denied the ability to allot those funds.

Second, it would have to be find the right balance between being politically split among each council district of LA and being focused on exactly which streets need repair the most (the LADOT can whip out that list in 2-3 days, if not 2-3 hours).

Third, it would have to include sidewalk, median and other infrastructure repair, as well as bike racks, bus stops and other amenities that are well-defined and meant to support the Expo, Wilshire, Crenshaw, Green and other rail lines as well as a clear-cut Bicycle Plan … but would have to have the lion’s share of the money focused on the roads.

Fourth, it would have to consider the need to incentivize homeowners and property owners to chip in with their own funds.  Perhaps a city or county property or DWP tax deduction or even TAX CREDIT if they put up money to fix the sidewalks and parkways by their property.

Fifth, it would need to address the funding mechanism that developers should be asked to come up with to mitigate for the full transportation impacts of their projects; right now, they’re skating away scot-free by mitigating to address a level of transportation needs that were valid decades ago, but not by any stretch credible by real-world, modern-day needs.

Finally, there would need to be a business/commercial tax incentive to pay for critical projects like the LAX People Mover and provide betterments for the Downtown Light Rail Connector and Streetcar projects.

In other words, it would have to make sense to the voters and taxpayers (and not just unions and contractors), it would have to legally adhere to fiscal and technical restraints to make it cost-effective, and it would have to pass muster with both financial and political analysts as “the real deal” with respect to public investment.

And it would pass, as sure as Measure R did in 2008.  The City of LA definitely CAN save itself.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) -cw

Tags: Measure R, LA Planning, Mayor Villaraigosa, Governor Brown, Los Angeles, streets, roads, sidewalks

Vol 9 Issue 90
Pub: Nov 11, 2011