On June 23rd, the full Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) board will consider placing Measure R2 on the November 2016 ballot. Metro CEO Phil Washington recently announced that Measure R2 would be a permanent, non-expiring sales tax extension and increase. By becoming a permanent fixture, Measure R2 will govern transportation infrastructure development for the County for at least 50 years, and will raise at least $120 billion. Leaders in the San Fernando Valley, including State Senator Robert Hertzberg, have organized "It’s Our Turn” to ensure that the Valley gets a fair share of promised infrastructure investment in transit. In this exclusive TPR interview, Sen. Hertzberg elaborates on the Valley’s priorities and his views on the transparency of Metro’s budgeting process.
Sen. Robert Hertzberg
“Last time, with Measure R, lots of things that were promised to the Valley didn’t end up happening—with the justifications that Metro ran out of money or had to change the order of projects. We wanted to make sure that there was no possibility of that kind of bait-and-switch in Measure R2.” - Sen. Robert Hertzberg
When TPR interviewed Richard Katz, the chair of the Valley Economic Alliance, in September 2015, he stated that San Fernando Valley stakeholders are concerned about being left behind once again in terms of securing needed transit funding from LA County’s proposed sales tax Measure R2. As the State Senator representing nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents, do you believe that the Valley is likely to receive a fair share of the Measure R2 funding?
Bob Hertzberg: The Valley was left behind last time around, in Measure R. There’s no question about it.
The argument that then-Mayor Villaraigosa made, and that then-Metro board members accepted, was that transportation infrastructure has to start with building the core—and that next time, it would be the Valley’s turn. That’s why the coalition we’ve built around the potential ballot measure is called It’s Our Turn.
The original plan just did not have enough in it for the Valley. We had something like two out of 78 rail stops in the system. The plan ignored CSUN and a number of other elements. But the Valley held off last time, and now it’s time to fulfill the promise that the Valley will be taken care of this time.
Our large coalition—which included former Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) chairs, the president of CSUN, Zev Yaroslavsky, Richard Katz, and others—took a hard look at the plan. We held two big summits, with more than 200 people at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in October and 300 people at CSUN in March, and together we put out a list of demands.
One of the things we decided was critically important was to prevent “bait-and-switch” language. In the past, lots of things that were promised to the Valley didn’t end up happening—with the justifications that Metro ran out of money or had to change the order of projects. We wanted to make sure that there was no possibility of that kind of bait-and-switch in this measure.
Then the revised plan came out. And despite working very closely with the Mayor’s office and with Metro senior staff, and getting the impression that there would be some dedicated money for our priority projects, they came up with nothing.
What are the priorities of Valley constituents that deserve meaningful inclusion in Measure R2? Can you elaborate on the most important projects, such as the needed bus service to CSUN?
There are 50,000 students, faculty, and workers at CSUN every day. There are 200,000 single-occupancy trips every week to the school. It is one of the biggest traffic generators in the entire San Fernando Valley, and there are no real transportation solutions for it.
At the summits, we heard horrible stories from kids about how hard it is for them to get to school. We have kids getting out of classes that end after the bus service has stopped. What was embarrassing, in my view, was that Metro didn’t even know it.
Now Metro is responding by giving us a bus line. They’re trying to tell us that a bus will solve this transportation problem, and it is just not the case.
CSUN is the largest state university in the system. It’s a regional institution. Every community college in LA County and high schools from as far as Pasadena, Glendale, and Long Beach are feeder schools to CSUN. A transportation system to it is critical, and they’ve offered nothing substantial or permanent.
The notion that the potential measure, which is now evergreen, could fail to include a dedicated project for CSUN is political and transportation policy malpractice.
I’m fighting hard for this. I can’t stand by and not know that I did everything I possibly could to make sure that this problem is solved for these kids. They are our future.
Is expansion of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) another high priority for the Valley?
The Orange Line, which is a bus rapid transit, has been wildly successful with dramatically higher ridership than the original estimates. (It was funded with state money, not voter money, as a result of research then-Supervisor Yaroslavsky and I obtained from a similar system in Brazil.)
Metro extended the Orange Line going north to south up Canoga to serve the western portion of the Valley, and they’re going to put in a rail along Van Nuys that also goes north to south.
We’re asking for a line that goes east to west—connecting Canoga in the west to Van Nuys and Osborne in the east. That would enable the kids in the northeast Valley, and the people coming off the rail system from Palmdale, to get to school at CSUN. It would basically complete the Valley’s transportation grid.
Right now, we only have a southern route. The BRT would be a cap across the north. But it requires sufficient funding, and to be sufficiently early in the timeline.
For Metro to be doing this kind of long-term planning, and not include Northridge, is just a non-starter.
Let’s move to the Sepulveda Pass and the lagging 405 Transit Reliever Project, which was envisioned to begin at the Van Nuys Civic Center, go underground to UCLA, and then go to the subway stop on Wilshire and Veteran. The idea was to provide relief for the most congested freeway and the biggest bottleneck in the city. Where does the Sepulveda Pass project stand now?
First, we know that the Sepulveda Pass has one of the highest levels of traffic anywhere in the country. Reducing congestion on the 405 and Sepulveda is hugely important, and there are significant challenges. We’re trying to move this project up on the list of priorities.
We also want to make sure that if other sources of funding are found for the project, that could reduce the need for sales tax revenue, that the Valley retain control of the money that was freed up. The project is a prime candidate for additional state or federal funds, or especially a public-private partnership that would infuse outside dollars into the project.
In our April letter to the Metro Board, we expressed our hope that Metro would increase the assumption of federal funds for the project. Metro’s draft plan assumed a federal share of less than 10%, while Metro has been receiving as much as 40% for current projects. If we could free up some of those funds, we could reinvest in other Valley projects.
What are your thoughts on the need to fund a regionally connected Hollywood-Burbank rail system?
The Hollywood-Burbank regional rail connection is a regional plan that has a regional pot of funds to draw from. The busway between North Hollywood’s Red and Orange Line hub and the Gold Line in Pasadena, as well as the connection of high-speed rail to the Hollywood-Burbank airport, will create two key transportation hubs. An extension of the Red Line into the airport would not only connect these hubs, but also connect a large part of the emerging transit network to the second most important airport in the region.
In our letter, we talked about making sure there’s sufficient funding for the Burbank airport connection. Our ask was to stop the bait-and-switch language, to make sure that whatever projects are planned to be funded are going to be funded. We thought that was critical. We also talked about the CSUN line, and we talked about the grade separations along the Orange Line to make it go across the Valley much faster.
In your view, has the planning process for Measure R2 been transparent?
No. It just hasn’t. Yet you hear folks saying that it was. Let me explain why that’s just wrong.
There’s been some effort, and there certainly was more effort than last time. I give them applause for that. But there is local infrastructure that did not exist when we did Measure R, and those organizations have largely not been included.
They’ve certainly had a lot of meetings, but by and large, they have been sparsely attended. On the other hand, our meetings over the past nine months have had literally hundreds of people in the room.
Was the option discussed with the community to extend this initiative to be evergreen, meaning it will be permanent, far beyond 30 or 40 years? Was an option discussed with the community to change the local return? Was there public discussion about the Vermont subway? Certainly that project is important, but it was added to the plan without a lot of public discussion.
The transit corridor that goes from Crenshaw to West Hollywood was moved up eight years—there was not an open discussion on that. There was no discussion on the line that connects to Las Vegas in the High Desert corridor. Thus, there was not an open public discussion of several plan changes.
They also suggest that there has been community feedback for the plan. Electronic polling machines were used at meetings that didn’t give people the opportunity to do anything other than choose the options presented. People could not suggest options or alternatives not already in the plan. This is a way to use the process to control the outcome, so they cannot claim that the changes they have made since the first draft of the plan have come from community feedback and a transparent process.
What are your thoughts on the recently failed SB 1472, a bill by State Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) that would have expanded the membership of Metro Board?
Let me emphasize one critical thing: I want the measure to pass. I just want it to pass fairly.
I did not support Senator Mendoza’s bill because, in my judgment, it jeopardized the measure. Senator Mendoza is a dear friend, and I was very upfront with him about that.
That being said, I don’t disagree with Senator Mendoza that the Gateway communities have legitimate complaints about being ignored by Metro—just as we do in the Valley. I think we need to find ways to deal with that.
How would you like a Measure R2 accord to be reached, to bring consensus to the region regarding future transportation infrastructure investment?
I want them to include sufficient funding for CSUN and its connecting BRT project or projects. There must be sufficient and specific funding in the plan to pay for the BRT line from Canoga to CSUN and Van Nuys, and those projects must be done sufficiently soon. They can’t be put 30 years down the line. They’ve got to be priorities.