Measure J Will Set LA County in Motion

This November, Los Angeles County voters will be asked to support Measure J, a much-needed investment in our transportation system that would start up seven transit projects and eight highway improvement projects within five years and complete them within fifteen, providing traffic relief along with 250,000 good jobs. Measure J is a remarkable opportunity to put the county back to work modernizing our transportation system. It does this not by raising taxes but by extending by another 30 years the half-cent transportation sales tax voters approved in 2008.

Photo: Measure J's expanded lines

Measure J has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, the American Lung Association, CicLAvia and other business, labor and environmental organizations across the county—and by Arts for LA! Extending the sales tax and providing a longer revenue stream allows LA Metro to finance these projects now, when interest rates are at historic lows and unemployment rates are high.

Measure J would provide Los Angeles County residents with new transportation choices to get to jobs, the airport, universities, museums and galleries, and the beach, and to get in and around downtowns. These projects and the paychecks they produce would be a powerful economic driver and make Los Angeles County prosperous again.

The seven new transit lines include the Gold, Expo, Crenshaw and I-405 Transit Corridor lines, the Green Line Extension to LAX, the Regional Connector and the subway—all of them finished between 2019 and 2025. The eight highway improvement projects include sound walls, onramp improvements, carpool and truck lanes, grade separations for freight rail, freeway “hotspot” improvements. Twenty percent of revenues will go to county bus operations, a critical step that has helped maintain bus fares and service in Los Angeles County at the same time that fares and services have been slashed at transit agencies across the U.S.  Another fifteen percent will be returned to cities for filling potholes, improving streets and sidewalks, funding bike lanes, and local bus service.

If voters approve Measure J, they will provide the region with its own self-help economic stimulus by addressing one of the biggest problems bedeviling Los Angeles: traffic. Measure J makes money available for more transportation choices—more subway, light rail, and bus rapid transit lines, sidewalks, and bike lanes.

Moreover, most of the 250,000 jobs generated by the Measure J construction program are covered by a project labor agreement and construction careers policy that ensure that residents of low-income communities and disadvantaged workers will be hired for many of these jobs. California sales taxes are not regressive in so far as they exempt rent, food, utilities, medicine, health services, and gas.

The cost of this economic stimulus and transportation improvement plan is estimated by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation as an average of $25 per person per year. All funds stay in Los Angeles County and can only be used for an agreed-upon countywide plan with independent annual audits, oversight by a panel of retired judges, full public review, and a 1.5 percent limit on administrative costs.

The “sunset” of the sales tax would be extended from 2039 to 2069, but we are building infrastructure that will serve both current and future generations. We would all benefit from the fact that projects would be built at a time when construction and financing costs are at historic lows. Moreover, there is a clause that would allow voters to stop the sales tax extension if they decide the spending program is no longer cost-effective.

Okay, full disclosure: I work for the business-labor-environmental coalition Move LA and we are working on the campaign to pass Measure J. But how can you not be convinced when the upsides of this investment are so good?

 

Photo of Gloria Ohland of MoveLAGloria Ohland has worked on issues related to transit and transit-oriented development at the national and local levels for many years. She was a founding member of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, which was funded by Congress to promote best practices in TOD; worked on the H+T (housing and transportation) affordability index now used by HUD to prioritize housing projects for funding; and she worked on an early Southern California demonstration project of the location efficient mortgage, which was the precursor to the H+T index. Since joining Move LA she has worked on implementing SB 375, which seeks to reduce GHG emissions by reducing driving, and on thinking through how we ensure the creation of affordable, livable, prosperous neighborhoods along the transit system we are building out with funding from the Measure R sales tax. Previously she was a vice president at the national nonprofit Reconnecting America, and has authored many publications on transit and TOD.