Newsletter: New York’s flip-flop on congestion pricing is bad news for L.A.

Commuters wait to drive through the Holland Tunnel into New York City during morning rush hour traffic in Jersey City, N.J.
Commuters wait to drive through the Holland Tunnel into New York City during morning rush hour traffic in Jersey City, N.J., in March 2023. New York was going to become the first U.S. city to charge congestion tolls on drivers entering its downtown.
(Ted Shaffrey / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Kerry Cavanaugh, and it is Saturday, June 8. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul just made the most appalling political flip-flop of the year. Weeks before New York City was set to launch the nation’s first congestion pricing system, Hochul stopped the program indefinitely, saying she was concerned about the possible economic impacts. Election-year politics were surely a major factor as well. Motorists were going to have to pay up to $15 to drive into the busiest part of Manhattan, thus removing some cars and trucks from traffic-clogged streets and reducing vehicle pollution. The toll revenue was to be used to improve the region’s aging public transit system.

This is disappointing for several reasons. It’s just bad leadership. The MTA, a state agency that runs New York’s subways and buses, has worked on the program for decades and spent half a billion dollars installing tolling cameras for the June 30 start. The governor herself touted the benefits last month at a global economic summit. To pull the plug now shows that Hochul does not have the courage of her convictions and is unwilling to stick by hard decisions for the greater good. Compare that to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo who has bucked critics and transformed her city by reducing the number of cars on the roads, which has cut air pollution, increased biking and walking and allowed neighborhoods to reclaim streets for parks and green space.


Hochul is also abandoning public transit riders. The tolls were going to provide $1 billion a year to help modernize the city’s bus and rail system, which is plagued by old equipment and breakdowns.

And New York’s backtrack doesn’t bode well for Los Angeles, where Metro is studying congestion pricing pilot projects. The goal is to use tolls as a way to reduce traffic and improve transit options in specific areas. Three potential locations are being eyed: roads and freeways into downtown; Interstate 10 between downtown and Santa Monica; and freeways and canyon roads that cross the Santa Monica Mountains between the San Fernando Valley and the L.A. Basin. The Times’ editorial board wrote last year that the U.S. has been too slow in embracing this proven tool to unclog roads, and that New York could be a model for Los Angeles. Not anymore, unfortunately.

It’s a shame California voters won’t be able to dump this racist anti-housing policy in November. Lawmakers are planning to shelve a constitutional amendment to repeal Article 34, which requires that cities get voter approval before they build “low-rent housing” using public money. It was passed in 1950 and used to block low-income and minority residents from moving into communities. The Times’ editorial board writes: “Lawmakers shouldn’t give up on the repeal; it’s important to excise this ugly law from the state Constitution even if it’s difficult.”

Why Biden’s new border plan is a terrible idea. Karen Musalo, founding director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Law San Francisco, details the legal, practical and moral flaws in the president’s new order shutting down the border to people seeking asylum. “Biden came into office with a promise to restore ‘the soul of our nation’ and our country’s ‘historic role’ as a leader in refugee protection. Unfortunately, he has abandoned this principled commitment based on the false belief that his political survival largely depends on being tough on immigration.”

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House Republicans would rather demonize Anthony Fauci than help Americans survive the next pandemic. This week’s House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing was a waste of time and energy, writes columnist Robin Abcarian. “We are no closer to learning conclusively about the origin of COVID-19, nor steps the government can take to strengthen data collection, improve future testing and contact tracing, or address the racial and wealth disparities that were laid bare in that terrible time.”

What’s a grandmother to do when her grandchild lives across the country. Judy Belk writes about the intense love for her first granddaughter and the “grandma blues” she gets thinking about the distance that separates them and the limited years they’ll have together. “Her innocence and glee is a reminder that while we can’t stop the march of time or solve all the problems of this troubled world she’s entered, we can choose how we want to spend the time we have.”

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