LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: Valley leaders call for higher return on public transit dollars
By Dana Bartholomew
VAN NUYS >> Their motto said, “It’s our turn: Ahora Nosotros!”
For the San Fernando Valley leaders who turned out for a Transportation Summit in Van Nuys on Monday hoping to wring more Valley rail projects out of a proposed 1-cent sales tax for public transit, they meant it.
“This is a golden opportunity for transportation in the San Fernando Valley,” said Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents a traffic-clogged district from North Hollywood to Van Nuys. “The Valley must be part of a systemized (transit) plan.
“We must now speak as a single voice: The Valley must not be left out. So it will be imperative for everyone in this room to fight tooth and nail ... to make every penny that this Valley deserves goes into the ballot measure.”
The top priority of the transit summit was to identify the best railways and bus systems linking residents to jobs and market places throughout a sprawling region long underserved by local transit agencies.
Hosted by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and the Valley Economic Alliance at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, it drew mayors and city officials from Glendale to Calabasas, as well as neighborhood council members, transit officials and residents from across the Valley.
At issue were a proposed extension of the Measure R tax, as well as a tandem tax proposal known as Measure R2.
If both half-cent sales taxes make the November 2016 ballot, they could inject $121 billion for new, people-moving projects across Los Angeles County for decades.
If approved by voters, a so-called Measure R2 could generate $75 billion for transit fixes over the course of 40 years. A renewal of the Measure R tax, in addition, could add another $46 billion in transit dollars.
Half the combined $121 billion would be distributed to the region’s 88 cities for local transportation needs, including bike lanes. The other half would be dealt out to nine subregions, including the Valley, based on a proposed list of rail and transit priorities.
Approval of the 1-cent tax would signal the fourth sales tax since 1980 meant to help ease gridlock on L.A. County’s logjammed streets and freeways. A similar Measure J half-cent sales tax just failed to pass a required 67 percent majority in 2012.
More than two dozen speakers Monday highlighted transit shortfalls in a more than 250-square-mile region, with nearly 2 million residents, who had once fought a resurgence of rail transit.
At issue for Valley elected officials and business leaders has been the unfair return on Metro rail lines in the Valley compared to money spent. Of its $52.4 billion in current Measure R budgeted projects, according to the transit agency. Of that, the Valley share was $2.5 billion, or 5 percent, while Valley residents make up 15 percent of the county’s population and an estimated 23 percent of its tax base.
Of the 80 rail stops built by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority financed by voter-approved sales tax measures, only two are located in the Valley.
“As the sign says, ‘It’s our turn,’” Hertzberg said. “We need to put forwards a strong and comprehensive (transit) plan.”
THREE RAIL PROPOSALS
The San Fernando Valley Council of Governments, in conjunction with a Valley Industry and Commerce Association Valley On Track committee, has already submitted three rail proposals it deems a priority: a light rail system to replace a slow and crowded Orange Line busway; a light rail system up Van Nuys Boulevard along a so-called East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor to Sylmar, and a light rail tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass.
The Orange Line busway, opened 10 years ago this week to help relieve congestion on the clogged 101 Freeway, could carry more passengers and be made faster by longer buses rolling through grade separations at intersections.
A rail line to Sylmar would help ferry the thousands of low-income workers from the northeast Valley who now struggle to get to jobs downtown on a clunky bus system.
A Sepulveda tunnel might help relieve the notorious 405 Freeway — now impacted by more than 800,000 vehicles per day — plus the local streets and neighborhoods clogged by morning commuters.
Not left out of the discussion were the tens of thousands of students at Cal State Northridge and Los Angeles Mission College, whose schedules now don’t conform to Metro bus schedules, and are not included an any rail plans. The students sometimes have to wait an hour to hop on a local bus.
The Valley’s Council of Governments will hold a meeting at Van Nuys City Hall on Nov. 12 to discuss Metro transit options. Hertzberg and the Valley Economic Alliance will convene a second transportation summit sometime in January.
Residents said they hoped to turn an “inconvenient” bus and rail system left in the dust of decades of poor planning into a transit system many would want — and need. They said any public transit map must include the Valley’s needs, or a new sales tax measure should not get support,
“We need to ask the right questions,” said Mel Wilson, a Northridge Realtor who once served on the Metro board, and a nominee for the Fernando Award for public service. “Is it OK for kids to be at home while their parents ride the bus for two hours, latchkey kids who could get into trouble. Is that OK?
“Is it OK not to look at the social impacts of our transit dollars?” he said. “At the end of the day, I have to ask myself, where has the (public transit money) gone? ... If we get a map that does not reflect what our needs are, shame on us.
“Yes, I want to support Measure R2, but if that map isn’t right, no way Jose.”
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