Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CityWatchLA - Truth Getting Lost in the Measure R Feeding Frenzy

CityWatch, Nov 17, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 94

The Measure R feeding frenzy has just begun and LA's Department of Transportation has already created a cloud of confusion as it sets out to convince the City Council that when distributing $181.2 million in Local Return funds, the 10% Bike/Ped allocation amounts to $10.8 million. (Shouldn't it be $18.1 million?) The LADOT continues by referring to the Administrative Cost of $3.5 million as 2% (fair enough) and the Local Match set-aside of $73.4 million as 3% (not even close!) This bit of financial alchemy demonstrates the LADOT's knack for telling the truth, only the truth but not the whole truth.

At issue is the distribution of the Measure R Local Return funds which amount to 15% of the $30-40 billion that the Metro will collect over the next 30 years as a result of the half-percent sales tax increase that was approved by voters last year.

Relying on the Metro's revenue estimates, the City of Los Angeles anticipates collecting $181.2 million in Local Return funds over the next five years and is poised to approve a plan at Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting that will lay down a budget for the funds that have been accruing since this past July.

During the contentious process that preceded the approval of Measure R, the 15% Local Return was conceived in response to the objections of the communities and constituent groups. They argued that Measure R would cost them money but yield them no specific returns.

By design, the 15% Local Return funds would empower locals with funds to support the projects that were not specifically included in the Measure R budget and long range transportation plan.

When the Measure R Ordinance was presented to the voters, Local Return projects were defined as "major street resurfacing, rehabilitation and reconstruction; pothole repair; left turn signals; bikeways; pedestrian improvement; streetscapes; signal synchronization; and transit" and it was to be distributed on a per capita basis.

Demonstrating a bookkeeping style that must be the envy of Hollywood Studios and Three Card Monte dealers alike, the LADOT and its Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) partners are proposing a budget that calculates on gross revenues when necessary to diminish (admin costs just 2% of gross,) on net proceeds in order to enhance (bike/ped funds are fully 10% of net,) and on unrelated figures in an effort to distract (3% local match is based on another budget!)

Most disturbing is that the IDC proposes to start the process of budgeting for the anticipated Local Return revenue by funneling 40.5% ($73.4 million) back to the Metro to satisfy LA's "3% local match contribution" to the Measure R "mega transit/rail projects" which include the Crenshaw Transit Corridor, Canoga Transit Line, and the Subway to the Sea Projects. (this is where "3%" actually amounts to 40.5%)

There are three significant problems with this the LADOT and IDC proposed budget:

First, the immediate and local transportation needs of LA communities should not have to compete with the "mega" projects of the region. The Local Return funding was established to prevent the project vs. project drama that is divisive to the community. The Local Return funds must be spent on Local Return projects, not siphoned off for "mega" match obligations.

Second, playing fast and loose with the percentages leaves naive bike/ped advocates lined up with their porridge bowls, thinking that when the LADOT promises 10%, it means 10%. It doesn't. It means 6%.

The only way to fix this is to take the $3.5 million in Administrative Costs and the $3.8 million in Council Office Discretionary Funds, and add them to the current $10.8 million bike/ped allocation. This totals $18.1 million, which amounts to 10% of the anticipated Local Return of $181.2 million over the next 5 years.

Third, this whole process demonstrates the real need for a Transportation Vision that commits Los Angeles to a robust and comprehensive transportation system, one based on equality and a commitment to creating real transportation choices for everybody. At the federal and the state level, the simple standard is to accommodate people of all modes all the time.

Yet in Los Angeles, cyclists compete with street furniture for funding, pedestrians compete with transit passengers, motorists compete with each other, council districts compete with their constituents, and city departments simply grab their budgets and hide.

The people of Los Angeles need to demand a real Transportation Vision, the LADOT needs to step away from the cash-box, and the bike/ped advocates need to count their change before they leave the window.

(Stephen Box is a transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net) ◘

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