Los Angeles is poised to spend billions on two vexing problems: Traffic and homelessness

Los Angeles voters appeared to take decisive action on two of the region’s most vexing issues — traffic and homelessness — backing two ballot measures that would funnel billions of dollars to ease both problems.

While final ballots still were being counted, returns show voters approved both measures by the needed two-thirds majority, though officials say it could take days for the tallies to be finalized.

If approved, Los Angeles would begin two expensive experiments: Building many new rail lines in an effort to get commuters out of their cars and creating new permanent housing for the homeless.

There is plenty of skepticism about whether either will work. But voters appeared willing to give the ideas a try as they endure worsening gridlock on roads and the homeless population continues to swell.

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If both measures pass, L.A. will go on a building binge, constructing new light rail, a massive tunnel connecting the Valley and Westside as well as new housing. The transit measure also is expected to accelerate L.A.’s boom in more dense housing along major boulevards and transit lines that already is changing many neighborhoods. 

Los Angeles’ ambitious plan to tackle homelessness with a borrowing measure worth $1.2 billion had an overwhelming lead in the vote Wednesday morning, and its supporters have declared victory.

With all precincts reporting, Measure HHH had secured 76% of the vote, well above the 66.67% threshold it needed to pass.

An unknown number of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots still need to be counted.

Measure M, which would fund the most ambitious transit expansion in Los Angeles County history, amassed support from 69.82% of voters, with all precincts reporting.

That’s more than the 66.67% requirement to approve the sales tax increase to fund $120 billion in transit improvements over the next four decades, which would in part fund a large expansion of the system’s rail network. 

At a joint victory party Tuesday night for several local ballot measures, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — Measure M’s most visible advocate — took the stage to applause. 

“There is nothing to be depressed about in Los Angeles when we wake up tomorrow,” Garcetti said Tuesday night. Local races, he said, showed a county “that is willing to take on the toughest challenges,” including congestion, homelessness and funding for higher education.

Measure M would raise the county sales tax by a half-penny, generating an estimated $120 billion over four decades for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build new highway projects and expand bus and rail lines, including boring twin rail tunnels through the Sepulveda Pass.

The rail system would expand to Pacoima, Claremont, Westwood, Torrance and Artesia. The tax also would fully or partly fund 10 highway projects, such as an extension of the freeway on State Route 71 and a new carpool-lane interchange between the 405 and 110 freeways.

Measure M would raise the county’s base sales tax rate by half-cent in 2017 and increase it to 1% in 2039 after another half-cent sales tax expires. The levy would continue until voters choose to end it.

Patrick Janssen, 30, a sound mixer for film and television, voted for the measure at his polling place in Los Feliz.

“Any attempt to improve transit — please, please, please. It’s my least favorite thing about this city,” he said.

Traffic always ranks high among concerns for residents. But critics have warned that because Measure M has no end date, voters may find it difficult to hold Metro accountable for cost overruns and schedule delays that have beset many agency projects in the past. And city leaders in the South Bay — where rail lines are scarce — opposed it because the northern parts of the county get their projects first.

The city homeless housing initiative would authorize $1.2 billion in borrowing to accelerate the pace at which mostly nonprofit developers build permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The bonds would be repaid by a new property tax averaging just under $9.64 for each $100,000 in assessed valuation each year over 29 years.

The owner of a $1-million property would pay, on average, $96 every year. The owner of a home with a median assessed value would pay about $32 a year.

City officials who placed the measure on the ballot say it would help fund 1,000 apartment units a year for 10 years. Los Angeles County would provide the support services for the city housing.

After years of ineffective efforts to stem the spread of tent encampments that now dot the city, the bond measure is an ambitious approach to achieve a long-term solution. If approved, it would have little immediate effect, leaving the city and county struggling to gain traction with short-term efforts, including offering services to those living on the street and finding placements in existing housing.

On skid row, voters hobbled out of their tents and welfare hotels in force Tuesday, lining up at times to cast ballots at four polling stations in the 50-block district.

They were prodded by a registration campaign, phone banking and the housing measure. 

“I need help, and my brother here needs help,” said James Evans as he and friend David Chavarria sat outside Midnight Mission in wheelchairs. He hoped the measure could get them off the streets one day.

Proposition HHH had the backing of much of Los Angeles’ political leadership and civic groups. United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce are coordinating the campaign. Opponents, who argue that the city should use existing revenue to address homelessness, have not formed a campaign committee or raised funds.

Though no polls specifically aimed at Proposition HHH have been published, voters have consistently rated homelessness as one of the city’s top issues.

A number of other California communities also are using the ballot to address their own acute homelessness crises.

In the most ambitious bid, San Francisco’s Proposition J was seeking $1.2 billion over the next quarter century for homeless services, including housing, and $2.4 billion to beef up public transit, fix roads and improve pedestrian safety.

At the state level, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in July allocating $2 billion for housing for homeless people with mental illness. The money will come from the state’s Mental Health Services Act, funded by the Proposition 63 millionaire’s tax approved by voters in 2004.

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