Monday, November 3, 2008

Why I think you should vote yes on R

Hi Friends,

Many of you know I'm a strong supporter of Measure R. Many of you know that I'm working on my MBA in Finance and my MA in Transportation Planning at UCLA, so I've taken a dozen graduate-level classes on issues related to Measure R. I'm convinced that Measure R is vital to ensuring the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of Los Angeles. With all of the political noise we've been subjected to in the past few months, I wanted to make sure that you are aware of Los Angeles County Measure R before Election Day. I also hope to convince you to vote yes on Measure R to get Los Angeles moving again.

Each section has a heading written in the form of that question. If you're wondering the answer to the question, read the section. If not, skip it. Measure R is about making living in and traveling around Los Angeles more efficient, so there's no reason to waste time reading what you already know... Measure R needs a 2/3rd yes vote to pass, and right now, it's polling at around 2/3rds. I wouldn't waste your time with this email if I didn't think your vote mattered.

What is Measure R?
Measure R is a one-half cent sales tax increase that will provide a projected $40 billion to fund transportation projects to increase mobility around Los Angeles County as part of Los Angeles's Long Range Transportation Plan. The plan targets the most congested areas of Los Angeles County with smart, location-appropriate capacity expansions. In many areas, this means adding lanes, synchronizing traffic signals, or reengineering intersections to improve traffic flow. In some areas, this means adding bus service and constructing light rail. In the Wilshire Corridor, this means expanding the subway network. In many areas, a combination of street improvements and transit capacity expansion will get Los Angeles moving.

Here's the ballot language:

TRAFFIC RELIEF. RAIL EXTENSIONS. REDUCE FOREIGN OIL DEPENDENCE. To: Synchronize traffic signals; Repair potholes; Extend light rail with airport connections; Improve freeway traffic flow (5, 10, 14, 60, 101, 110, 138, 210, 405, 605, 710); Keep senior/student/disabled fares low; Provide clean–fuel buses; Expand subway/Metrolink/bus service; Dedicate millions for community traffic relief; Shall Los Angeles County's sales tax increase one–half cent for 30 years with independent audits, public review of expenditures, all locally controlled?

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, Los Angeles is #1 in the United States in traffic congestion, time spent in traffic, and wasted gas. In 2005, congestion cost Los Angeles $9.3 billion in lost time and fuel, or about $1,400 per resident. The average of $25 per resident invested by Measure R won't eliminate congestion in Los Angeles, but it will significantly improve mobility and access to opportunities across the region and provide a substantial return on public investment.

Measure R is a County Measure at the "bottom of the ballot" (after elected officials and state propositions) for Los Angeles County voters. Find out where you're voting tomorrow and see a sample ballot at

Isn't the Eastside of the County and the San Gabriel Valley getting the short end of the stick?

Measure R provides funding for Metro's Long Range Plan, which was developed during a two year, very public, multi-stakeholder process aimed at getting Los Angeles moving again. This plan prioritizes funding of transit projects with high ridership potential, such as the Wilshire Subway (which will carry at least 180,000 people per day) and are sure shots for federal funding matches. The pet project of the Eastern County and the San Gabriel Valley is the Gold Line extension to Claremont, which is projected to attract fewer than 20,000 daily riders. The gold line extension will not necessarily be competitive for matching federal funds, nevertheless Measure R provides around $700M for the project. East County politicians who oppose Measure R fail to realize that it will not get them their Gold Line extension any sooner, as this project has been prioritized lower on Metro's Long Range Plan. Some of them are hoping voter rejection of Measure R will force Metro to change the long range plan, a process which will take at least five years while Los Angeles continues to suffer in traffic, and is unlikely to move their pet projects up on the list. Encouraging their constituents to vote against Measure R is especially damaging because LA County doesn't have uncommitted funds available to move forward on any of these projects without Measure R. This means that a No Vote on Measure R delays all of the projects in the Long Range Plan until at least 2015.

The Westside of Los Angeles will receive about 124% of the county-wide per capita funding that measure R will provide and much of this, $4.5B, or 11% of Measure R funds will go towards the Wilshire Subway. A $4.5B federal match will provide the $9B needed to build the subway to Westwood. What was billed as the "subway to the sea" had to be scaled back in order to fund projects elsewhere in LA County.

By contrast, the San Gabriel Valley is projected to receive only 84% of the county-wide per capita funding Measure R will provide. However, the system-wide improvements will open access to more opportunities throughout Los Angeles and create stronger links to existing transportation alternatives (Metrolink, Gold Line) that have been previously financed by Los Angeles County taxpayers. If every region received an equal return of funds, Measure R would presumably do wonders to placate politicians, but less to alleviate congestion in Los Angeles.

Isn't a sales tax regressive? Won't Measure R hurt the poor?
An across-the-board sales tax is regressive. Measure R is not an across-the-board sales tax increase because rent, utilities, services, and food are not taxed in Los Angeles County and make up a high proportion of a low-income family's expenses. Low income families, especially those without access to an automobile, stand to contribute less than $25 per capita and benefit a great deal from the increased transportation funding that Measure R will provide.

Why does Measure R call for a sales tax? Shouldn't investment in infrastructure be financed by bond measures?
Ideally, an increase in property taxes or a bond measure would be used to finance Measure R, which will provide benefits that will be captured by increases in real estate prices. However, in California, Proposition 13 has long limited property tax funding (and choked many local governments and school systems) and makes funding Metro's long range plan through a property tax assessment impossible.

A bond measure would be a great way to provide funding while hiding the costs to residents. However, bond funding has been raided by the state in the past to cover budget shortfalls, resulting in no money for the programs the bonds were supposed to fund.

A sales tax increase allows Los Angeles County to maintain local control and accountability for funds and allows Los Angeles to pay for improvements as it goes rather than taking on debt and later scrambling to find funds to cover payments.

What's this I hear about you dressing up as a Pirate and shouting "AYE on RRRRRR" at passersby on a street corner in Westwood?
Scroll down to the pictures. One benefit of being the photographer is that you never show up in any of the pictures J

Best, and Good Luck at the polls tomorrow!