State senator says it’s LAX or bust for tax hike bill
State Sen. Jenny Oropeza put it in no uncertain terms Friday: She is prepared to kill the bill that would allow a half-cent sales tax increase to go on the November ballot in Los Angeles County to pay for road and transit projects.
“I said in order for the bill to pass the Senate, it is going to have to contain the Green Line extension,” Oropeza (D-Long Beach) told me. “They” -- Los Angeles County transportation officials -- “understood that. They are playing a game of chicken and blaming the Legislature. I am praying to God they do the right thing. I don’t want to see this thing go down either.”
I asked her if she was prepared to try to kill the bill -- and any chance of a vote in November. Oropeza firmly answered: “Yes I am.”
There have been plenty of legislative maneuverings in recent weeks as county transportation officials and politicians have scrambled to get the sales tax proposal on the fall ballot, when a huge turnout is expected because of the presidential election.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board last month approved an ordinance calling for the election. That ordinance details how the expected $30 billion to $40 billion in sales tax revenue would be spent.
Oropeza wants to be sure the work includes extending the Green Line to Los Angeles International Airport. The light rail line, which runs down the middle of the 105 Freeway, opened in the mid-1990s and has long been a potent symbol of poor local transportation planning because it skirts the southern end of LAX but doesn’t actually go near the terminals.
Oropeza said the MTA’s proposed ballot language makes it sound like the connection will be built. But she believes neither the MTA proposal nor the current state bill, AB 2321, provide enough guarantees.
She wants to insert new language in both documents. MTA officials, however, are hesitant to reopen what has already proved to be a can of worms and could invite a legal challenge.
“I have been trying to find out from someone why they object to having this particular project in the bill, and no one has given me an answer,” Oropeza said. “Now they are claiming it is too late because of the timing with the ballot to effectuate a change in the ordinance.
“We have documentation to show that’s not true. We know it’s not impossible. Yes, they would have to convene another meeting, but they could do it if they wanted to.”
Oropeza has sway in the process. The bill is stuck in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where she is one of four senators from Los Angeles County. While two of the others -- Sens. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) -- are likely to support the sales tax increase because of the benefits to their districts, both Oropeza and Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) have raised doubts. So it will come down to whom the rest of the committee will side with.
Now, as Oropeza said, the bill has become one big game of chicken. And she certainly sounded Friday as if blinking was not an option -- even if it means that the sales tax proposal dies.
“The transportation wheels have moved way too slowly in the county of Los Angeles, and a lot of it has to do with these politics,” Oropeza said. “The losers are the people. I’m not personally responsible for that. I wish I could fix it. It’s extremely frustrating. I have this incredibly important project. It just disappoints me very much.”
More speed bumps for state’s high-speed train proposal
Things just keep getting more challenging for the proposed high-speed train between the Southland and San Francisco.
Several groups Friday sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority, alleging the agency did a shoddy job of picking a route for the train in Northern California. The alignment between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, which was announced earlier this summer, misses Modesto, Stockton and the sprawling suburbs of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of Union Pacific announcing in June that it didn’t want to share its right-of-way with high-speed rail. The Authority says that’s hardly a deal-killer, but it’s certainly another headache with a $9.9-billion bond measure on the November ballot -- enough to get the project started.
As with most rail projects in California, it’s all-aboard time -- for the lawyers, that is.
Steve Hymon writes The Times’ Bottleneck blog about Southern California traffic and transportation in real time. Check it out at latimes.com/bottleneck.