Photo by Brian Addison.
Measure M was a huge win for transit advocates. Huge. And the people of LA County agreed—in fact, 71 percent of them agreed to tax themselves in order to better prepare for the needs of the future in terms of how people in the county get around.
Part of Measure M’s crown achievements? Local returns: 16% of the funds generated through the tax measure—that’s about $138M of the estimated $860M the measure will generate annually—will be given back to municipalities for local transportation projects of their own.
Even Metro Boardmember and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia touted local returns in both our town hall with him at MADE by Millworks and my interview with him shortly after being appointed to the Metro Board.
“Listen,” Garcia said, “I supported Measure M; I endorsed Measure M—and that’s not changing. I understand the differing opinions regarding the measure and there’s some merit to the concerns that Gateway cities don’t benefit. Measure M isn’t an end-all-be-all solution. But ultimately, it’s an overall great package for the county and region.”
Some of the best parts of that “great package” are local returns. Long Beach, for example, will receive $7M in 2018 to fix streets and infrastructure as people travel through to get from Point A to Point B. That $1.1B through the first 40 years of the measure. (Not to mention Long Beach Transit, which will be getting over $8M this upcoming year from Measure M according to its budget.)
Well… Maybe. And I’m callin’ you out specifically, Mayor.
Unlike Measure R, which set local returns based on population, it has been suggested that some cities be given a minimum amount despite their populations—a motion led by Garcia and supported heavily by Supervisor Janice Hahn because some cities, based on populations, might not even get $100K, an amount that was jokingly discussed by Garcia as “not enough for a single curb-out.”
At first glance, this seems like Garcia is standing up for smaller cities—and in a sense he is. But let’s be clear, it’s the small cities that Scott Frazier points out “belong to one of two groups: wealthy residential communities, and industrial tax havens.” The eight cities that would be receiving $100K or less from local returns in Measure M? Avalon, Bradbury, Hidden Hills, Industry, Irwindale, La Habra Heights, Rolling Hills, and Vernon. (Of note: Irwindale was the sole city of each of these that even passed Measure M.)
One would think, after brilliant analyses by advocates Joe Linton and Frazier, that this minimum discussion would have hit rock bottom knowing that they benefit some of the county’s richest and, given these cities’ urban layout, don’t contribute toward a livable, transit-oriented county.
So the proposal is to look into multiple minimums, from $50K to to two-hundred-thousand dollars (with Hahn now proposing a floor of three-hundred-thousand dollars at the last meeting) and then break down how those varying proposals would affect different cities—and the results could be devastating for larger cities, specifically LA and Long Beach, that actually contribute toward a better future. Here’s how Frazier brilliantly puts it:
“If a $250,000 annual minimum were selected, we would add to the ranks of the aggrieved the likes of Malibu, Westlake Village, and San Marino, where commercial zoning is intentionally suppressed and multi-family housing is forbidden outright. The $500,000 annual minimum level, which seems just comically high, would siphon 7% of the total local return pot. Even though we are by now capturing nearly half of the jurisdictions in the county, we are still only giving benefits to 7% of county residents, effectively doubling their share of local return funding per capita. In this scenario, these small cities would certainly be able to afford more than a curb cut, but the largest part (about 38%) of the redistributions from the local return floor would go to those original eight cities with the county’s lowest populations. If these cities lack the necessary funds to pave their roads, or paint bike lanes, it is wholly a concern of their internal political priorities. The higher the floor is set, the more spurious claims to equity appear.”
In terms of equity, of transit-oriented infrastructural funding that was the epicenter of Measure M, these minimums are nothing short of egregious. Between LA and Long Beach, the cities most progressive with transit, we would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars toward cities that don’t give a flyin’ duck about transit, walkable streets, or anything going on outside their bubbles. (No offense, Hidden Hills: you just keep on, well, staying hidden like you prefer.)
This further compounds that the way in which local returns are spent. When disproportionate amounts are given to cities that didn’t even support Measure M, you can guarantee that those funds will go toward car-centric infrastructure rather than creating what we must: making streets safer for people to walk and bike through, benefit our communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods that are constantly ignored, cater to the disabled and less privileged, and promote the benefits of economic activity.
If those funds, particularly hundreds of thousands of dollars snatched from the cities who focus on those precise issues most, aren’t used for those purposes, we’re screwing over every voter who took a leap of faith in the idea that those are ideals LA County should uphold.
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