LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: What the San Fernando Valley would get, and not get, in new transportation tax
By Dana Bartholomew
When voters across Los Angeles County approved a half-cent sales tax seven years ago to ease traffic gridlock, the San Fernando Valley lost out to a lion’s share of new rail stops.
Score: Greater Los Angeles south and east of the Santa Monica Mountains, 78. The San Fernando Valley, 2.
That’s why Valley elected and business leaders are calling for a greater share of transportation fixes from a proposed extension of the Measure R tax and a fairer stake in a tandem transit 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 for decades.
“We’re not getting an adequate level of service,” declared state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, co-host of a Valley transportation summit next month. “I want to make sure that the people in the Valley are taken care of, because that’s my job.”
The public drumbeat for more voter-approved transit money began early this year when mass transit boosters held a rally at the Van Nuys Civic Center to appeal to Valley voters for another tax.
To win their support, they are having to address a shortcoming of bond Measure R, a 30-year half-cent sales tax that narrowly passed in 2008.
VALLEY’S 5 PERCENT
Of its $52.4 billion in current Measure R budgeted projects, according to Metro, the Valley share was $2.5 billion — or 5 percent, while the Valley residents make up 15 percent of the county’s population and an estimated 23 percent of its tax base. And while nearly half of Los Angeles residents live within a quarter-mile of a regular bus stop, only 20 percent of Valley residents do.
So when it comes to a proposed 1 cent sales tax for transportation upgrades, Valley leaders hope to see some serious local fixes.
“The return has been small” of the current tax, said former Assemblyman Richard Katz, the newly appointed chairman of the Valley Economic Alliance, which with Hertzberg and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association will co-host the Valley transportation summit on Oct. 26 at Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “(We) are trying to make sure that this never happens again.”
For a new sales tax to pass, he said: “You’d need the support of the Valley, or this measure will not happen.”
If Measure R2 is given the green light for the ballot box by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, it may generate $75 billion over the course of 40 years. A renewal of the current transit tax could bring in another $46 billion in transit dollars.
Half the combined $121 billion would be distributed to the region’s 88 cities for local transportation needs according to a formula based on local populations and jobs, Metro officials say. The other half would be dealt out to nine subregions, including the Valley, based on a limited list of transportation priorities submitted by nine local councils of government.
WHAT VALLEY WOULD GET
Earlier this month, the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments submitted three transportation proposals to now cost $3.4 billion, which with inflation could cost $8.7 billion years down the road upon completion.
The plan, hatched in conjunction with a Valley on Track coalition launched by VICA, all include rail tracks and could end up costing far more:
• A light rail system to replace a slow and crowded Orange Line bus way. Cost, said Katz, a rail transportation expert: $1.5 billion.
• A light rail system along a so-called East San Fernando Valley Corridor, a 9.2-mile link down Van Nuys Boulevard from the Sylmar Metrolink station to the Orange Line. Cost: $2 billion, or $450 million if employing bus rapid transit.
• A light rail train tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, to run 9 miles from the Orange Line to UCLA in Westwood. Designed to take traffic off the notoriously jammed 405 freeway, it could be combined (and partially paid for) with car toll lanes. Cost: $6 billion to $8 billion, or $1 billion for bus rapid transit.
Metro officials say the Valley Council of Governments projects, as submitted, come to 15 percent of available Measure R project funds. The Metro board is expected to decide the criteria for the sales tax measure on Oct. 22, then review the projects and fine tune them over many months. Public hearings could take place next spring.
If approved, the dual Measure R extension and Measure R2 half cent sales taxes would be submitted in July 2016 for a vote during the November presidential election. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to pass.
“Everybody is very enthusiastic about this,” said Pauletta Tonilas, head spokeswoman for Metro, which serves nearly 10 million residents across more than 1,400 square miles. “People are engaged. We’ll go back to the (councils of government), as we go forward, to continue to share information and have a dialogue.”
CRITICS AND CAUTION
Critics of the sales tax measures say when to build the proposed transit projects is almost as important as their initial funding. If a rail project is planned for the third decade, for instance, it may get superseded by inflation and other projects. And that’s what happened to the Sepulveda tunnel planned for Measure R, which is now in doldrums.
They also say nearly 150 Valley transit projects proposed for Measure R2 were left off the table — from rapid bus lines, to rail links to Bob Hope Airport — with the three proposed rail projects gobbling up most of the funds.
The Orange Line could first be speeded up by building grade-separate crossings, Katz said, that might cost $300 million and prepare the way for light rail.
And while the proposed Measure R2 rail projects would do much to shuttle students to UCLA, they would do nothing to ferry students to Cal State Northridge, which now serves nearly 50,000 students and faculty without a nearby rail stop.
“How do we make transportation options (work) for students across the San Fernando Valley,” Katz said. “That has to be part of the plan.”
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