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LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: CSUN can’t be ignored in Los Angeles County transit plan

Op-ed by Sen. Bob Hertzberg

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is charting the future, with a bold plan to put a permanent sales-tax extension and increase on the November ballot and tie the revenue to a list of major transportation improvements to be made over the next 50 years. Metro’s $120 billion plan is the product of a lot of hard work and thoughtfulness, and I applaud that. But it has one glaring omission that needs to be addressed: California State University, Northridge.

As the state’s largest Cal State campus, with nearly 50,000 students, workers and faculty, CSUN draws commuters from throughout the county. It is essentially a countywide campus that is a magnet for upward mobility.

CSUN has the second highest number of students in the nation receiving need-based federal assistance for college. And each year, there are more degrees earned by under-represented minorities at CSUN than any other university in California.

In addition, CSUN graduates more teachers every year than the entire University of California system. This university is vital for giving hard-working students from low-income families throughout the region an opportunity for, and a pathway to, a brighter future. And it plays a big role in combatting California’s teacher shortage.

Two transportation summits I hosted over the past year brought attention to CSUN’s transportation woes, with students telling horror stories about spending hours on multiple bus lines just to get to campus and having to make separate arrangements to get home because bus service often stops before evening classes finish.

Surface streets are clogged, with 200,000 single-occupancy car trips made to campus each week, and parking around campus is almost impossible to find.

Yet the plan the Metro board is scheduled to consider on Thursday contains no meaningful projects designated to benefit CSUN. The plan includes some funding that could be accessed for projects around CSUN, but it fails to tie any money to specific projects, and that lack of a guarantee means the money could easily go elsewhere.

I find that appalling, because the university is crying out for public transportation options right now, and the Metro plan for the next half-century has nothing significant in it to help.

It is not too late to fix this. Metro can amend its plan, use funds already within the plan and attach them to a specific project benefiting CSUN without undercutting any of the plan’s other priorities or projects.

An east-west bus rapid transit line connecting the campus to the northern part of the Valley could make a big difference, for instance, and it could be constructed with $300 million, a fraction of the $120 billion in planned expenditures. This can be achieved easily by making minor adjustments to timelines for some other planned projects.

Metro released the latest version of the plan on June 10 , after circulating a preliminary draft for 90 days for feedback. It included numerous changes, such as accelerating timelines for more than a dozen projects and adding three new projects.

Metro is aware of CSUN’s urgency. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attended a transportation summit held at CSUN on March 3 that drew hundreds of participants and highlighted the campus’s transportation problems. A coalition of Valley leaders followed up with an April 21 letter to Metro stating that the university desperately needed a transportation solution.

This isn’t a new request, CSUN is deserving and Metro has shown a willingness to revise its plan to ensure it gets it right. It also makes good political sense. Providing a guarantee for CSUN would help Metro build San Fernando Valley support for its sales tax measure, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the county’s voters in order to take effect.

A smart, comprehensive transportation plan for the county is important for our future, and CSUN must be part of it.

Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, represents the 18th District in the California Senate.

This piece was posted on the Los Angeles Daily News' website on June 20, 2016. 

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