Los Angeles County presents voters with two initiatives to help upgrade the physical form of our surroundings by improving our built and natural environment, and we support both measures.
YES on Measure A: A small price to pay to maintain and improve LA County parks and open spaces
Just over half of the residents of LA County live more than ½ a mile from a park. And the parks that we do have are in need of maintenance and improvement. The Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Open Space Measure would raise property taxes in LA County by one and a half cents ($0.015) on each square foot of improved property, both residential and commercial, to pay for maintaining and improving parks, and other open spaces including trails and beaches; as well as facilities such as recreation centers and senior centers; and programs, including afterschool programs, recycled water systems and drought tolerant landscaping; and protecting and preserving open space. While the opponents claim that this tax burdens fixed income homeowners, when you look at what this projected tax breaks down to, its easy to see how this concern is blown out of proportion. The LA County Department of Parks and Recreation notes that a 1,500 square foot home would pay an additional $22.50 in property taxes each year. That works out to less than $2 a month. The biggest red-herring raised by opponents of this measure is the claim that since the tax rate is applied equally to all homeowners, it is unfair to low-income homeowners. But this argument is flimsy at best. Homeowners living in larger homes are the ones that pay the most, and home size has a good correlation with home value. Yet even those living in the more distant reaches of the county where home values are lower compared to average home size this argument seems like an overstatement. If you are fortunate enough to live in a large home of 4,000 square foot home, which is over twice the size of the average home in Los Angeles, you would pay $60.00 more in property taxes each year, which works out to $5 a month. Further, measure A is set to replace two other property taxes that either expired or are set to expire in 2019, resulting in net decrease in property tax. On balance, this is a small price to pay, and overall seems to equitably distribute the tax burden so that we can reap the benefits of protecting and improving our open spaces. We recommend a YES vote on Measure A.
YES on Measure M: Investing Today in a More Transit-Friendly Future
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also known simply as Metro, has laid out an ambitious plan to greatly expand and improve desperately needed public transportation infrastructure in the County over the next 40 years. There’s only one problem: they don’t have the money for it. That’s where Measure M comes in. Measure M would make the sales tax approved in 2008 (Measure R) permanent, and would provide an additional half percent sales tax increase to fund Metro’s Long Range Plan, and provide reliable funding for future maintenance and improvements.
We are of the opinion that in this county of over 10 million people, with an area nearly the size of the state of Connecticut, we need twice as much transit expansion in Metro’s plan, and we need it twice as fast. Our population is only growing, and our roads are often jammed beyond capacity. The dilemma is the regressive nature of a sales tax increase that will disproportionately impact low income households. In an ideal scenario, Metro would be empowered to utilize more progressive strategies to fund transit improvements, but as Streetsblog LA notes in their endorsement of Measure M, “state law makes it nearly impossible to pass a ballot measure with any sort of tax except a sales tax.” At the same time, providing tax revenue to fund Metro operations helps keep fares among the lowest of any major city in the United States, which makes transit accessible to the widest range of riders possible.
Opponents of Measure M often critique the specifics of the high-profile rail projects in Metro’s plan, or complain that their community will not be served by a new rail line. To that end, it is worth pointing out that only 35% of the new revenue is dedicated to major new rail or bus rapid transit (BRT) projects, while 20% of the funds are dedicated to supporting and improving service on Metro’s already extensive and frequent bus system—levels on par with those in Measure R. Another 17% of funds will go directly to local cities to address their most pressing transportation needs, and 2% of the tax revenue is dedicated to projects like bike lanes and pedestrian improvements. Although 17% of proceeds from this measure will go toward freeway projects (a lower level than Measure R allocated), those projects are focused on addressing transitions and bottlenecks, rather than ineffective widening projects like the already-jammed-again 405 widening project. It should also be noted that the projects and timelines outlined in Metro’s plan represent a minimum. Identified projects can be accelerated, and new projects can be added as funding allows, and Metro has already received several proposals with strategies to accelerate Measure M projects.
Voters should not be under any delusion that Measure M will make freeway traffic better any time soon thanks to the law of induced demand, but expanding our transit system could help keep traffic from getting any worse, and removing cars from the roads also helps improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overcrowded trains on recently opened expansions of the Gold and Expo lines show that there is pent up demand for more robust transit option in Los Angeles, and rider surveys indicate that many of the new passengers used to drive to their destinations.
Unrelated to the specifics of Measure M, the expiring quarter percent sales tax from Prop 30 means that the effective net increase in sales tax will only be an additional quarter percent. For example, if Measure M passes, sales tax in the city of Los Angeles will increase from the current 9% to 9.25%.
Measure M is not ideal. The sales tax is regressive, and the effort to provide projects to serve all of Los Angeles County’s disparate communities did not always result in the smartest solutions. Still, as Streetsblog LA notes, “Measure M is significantly better and more holistic” than Metro’s previous ballot initiative efforts. We all need to advocate for better, more equitable ways to fund public transportation than regressive sales taxes. Until then Measure M is our best hope to build the public transit network that Los Angeles needs and deserves. We recommend a YES vote on Measure M.
Header image by flickr user Karol Franks via Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND