We can’t keep on destroying the public transit system in order to save it — that surely is the lesson we need to learn from the defeat of Measure J on Tuesday.
We all want a real public transit system. We want to park our cars and ride comfortably to where we want to go. But Measure J was phony, a taxpayer rip-off that was brought down by an extraordinary coalition of the rich and poor and so many from virtually every corner of the region. It was historic and offers a blueprint of what people can do in defense of their own interests if they respect the interests of others.
For more than a century, the rich got richer profiting from sprawling development of this giant county. The demographics may have changed, but greed knows no racial or other boundaries, and so they are seeking to profit from vertical — rather than horizontal — development without building the kind of public transit system that is needed.
The King of Greed in L.A. today, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — in a desperate effort to salvage his own political legacy — drove support for Measure R four years ago knowing full well the $30 billion from a one-half-percent sales tax hike over 30 years was a fraction of the cost of building the subways, light rails, freeways and bridges he sought.
The transportation lobby — with generous aid from contractors, consultants, construction trades and naifs, like cyclists — managed to fool two-thirds of voters.
Needing a lot more money, they lobbied Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — for billions as if the largest city in the largest state that always votes Democratic has any real leverage. The result was they got far less than needed, so they came up with Measure J to borrow against another 30 years of sales tax revenue — as much as $90 billion — to have a chance to deliver what they had promised.
At 8.75% Los Angeles County currently has the second highest sales tax rate in all of California. Only Alameda County has a higher sales tax rate. A little something for those of you who like to refer to the "price of a latte'" tax index.
Most of the press analyzing Measure J's defeat does cite what Ron Kaye called an "extraordinary coalition." With something called the Bus Riders Union, a somewhat militant "working class" organization dedicated to the cause of the transportation oppressed, getting a big share of the credit. However, many of these are publications that concern themselves with L.A. City issues, which in part explains their focus on that particular organization. Here bus riders are not quite so common, and likely lack the numbers or initiative to make very much noise. We do see occasional buses here in Sierra Madre, but only rarely do you ever see more than a few people on them. Not many of them look particularly militant.
For the record, I have nothing against the Bus Rider's Union. Quite the opposite, actually. I pretty much am sympathetic to any organization or group that stands up for the rights of citizens against dishonest government. And by slashing bus budgets in favor of such gentrified interests as "the subway to the sea," people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa deserve everything that the BRU has thrown at him.
So here is where we're going. Many San Gabriel Valley cities voted against Measure J at a higher rate than they did 2008's Measure R. And vote to approve declines here were in line with declines seen throughout Los Angeles County. While Measure J did get above an irrelevant 50% of the vote in most of our area cities (and far less than in L.A. City proper), it did so at percentages that were less than in 2008. And with local tax measures requiring 2/3s of the vote to carry in this state, any incremental vote declines can prove devastating.
Here is how the Measure R (2008) versus Measure J (2012) vote to approve percentages broke down in the area cities most effected by Metro's attempts to build the 710 Tunnel:
Arcadia: Measure R 56.1% / Measure J 55.2% (- 0.9)
Glendale: Measure R 65.1% / Measure J 63.8% (- 1.3%)
La Canada Flintridge: Measure R 52.8% / Measure J 49.6% (- 3.2%)
Monrovia: Measure R 60.3% / Measure J 56.8% (- 3.5%)
Pasadena: Measure R 69.2% / Measure J 62.8% (- 6.4%)
San Dimas: Measure R 55.9% / Measure J 51.5% (- 4.4%)
Sierra Madre: Measure R 57.8% / Measure J 54.9% (- 3.0%)
South Pasadena: Measure R 66.3% / Measure J 62.7% (- 3.7%)
So what is the overall local concern that would have driven Measure J's portion of the vote down here in happy valley? I don't think it was the bus issue. Rather it would have to be the 710 Tunnel. Metro, which would have been the big $90 billion dollar beneficiary had Measure J passed, is the "lead agency" in the attempt to link the 710 freeway with our own 210 freeway. Something that would have devastating ecological and traffic congestion related effects for folks such as us.
There is also the matter of Metro's arrogance and untruthfulness as a bureaucracy. Their disingenuous attempts to peddle the 710 Tunnel as only one of many possible options being considered during this so-called "process" has not impressed. It is clearly obvious that the 710 Tunnel has always been Metro's only real focus, and any attempts to convince people otherwise merely public relations and marketing.
It could very well be that voters in our part of the San Gabriel Valley helped to put a stake through the 710 Tunnel when they voted in increased numbers against Measure J. And while we are not getting a whole lot of credit for this breakthrough in civic consciousness, it is quite a victory nonetheless.