Mass transit is a hot issue nowadays, and the masses, including a coalition from Santa Monica, flocked to the MTA Board meeting in downtown Los Angeles on June 26.
Up for discussion and potential adoption was the LRTP (Long Range Transit Plan) of the MTA, which has for months been making the rounds of community meetings to get input from commuters. Elements of the plan include a continuation of projects approved in 2001, such as the building of the Expo Line Light Rail system to the Westside, an Eastside light rail extension, a system for the Wilshire transit corridor (which might be the proposed “subway to the sea”), a North Valley extension of the Orange Line, Gold and Green Line extensions, and highway improvements.
Also on the agenda was adoption of the one-half cent sales tax to benefit transportation (including funding for the Westside subway) that if approved by the Board, will be on the November ballot.
Due to the overflow crowd, Board chair Pam O’Connor proposed that the two issues be combined, with public input to be heard on both issues in one 75-minute time slot, followed by Board discussion and possible action.
Coalitions from the South Bay, the East Side, and the Westside spoke, as well as members of the Bus Riders Union, Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl, and individuals from various areas.
Among those who spoke for Santa Monica were Mayor Herb Katz, who supported the Westside rail plan, saying, “[It] will relieve congestion on the I-10,” and that it “would be an asset” to the area.
Dr. Susan Aminoff, Trustee of Santa Monica College, introduced an SMC student who spoke of the “hope of mobility.” Former Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vasquez described the Expo Line as an “opportunity to connect the Eastside to the Westside.”
Dennis Zane, representing the MoveLA coalition, which is promoting the sales tax, spoke of the need for the tax. “We think this Board is poised between a world of hurt and a world of possibilities.” He urged the Board to get behind the sales tax and the transit plan as proposed.
But other speakers had a different perpective. Members of the Bus Riders Union feared that the sales tax, coupled with last year’s bus fare increase and another fare increase looming next year, would severely impact the poor commuters of L.A. who rely on the buses. Plans for the subway and light rail routes to the Westside were decried by those who claimed that these projects favored affluent white neighborhoods.
As the Board’s discussion began, Board member Gloria Molina expressed similar sentiments. After questioning MTA officials about the estimated costs of the subway project, and the projected money that would be available from the sales tax, if passed, Molina wanted to know why a similar proposal to fund a subway to the Eastside had failed 10 years ago, but now there is support for a subway to the Westside.
In the end, the Board postponed approving the LRTP draft plan until after the November elections, due to uncertainty about the impact of the sales tax on the funds needed for the as-yet-unfunded projects.
Already funded projects such as the Expo Line will go forward as planned. The Westside subway, however, as well as the Gold Line extension, will have to wait for the election to receive possible funds from the sales tax.
The sales tax will go on the ballot after a final vote is taken by the Board on July 24.