Ron Kaye: Measure J loss is a victory for the people

We can’t keep on destroying the public transit system in order to save it — that surely is the lesson we need to learn from the defeat of Measure J on Tuesday.

We all want a real public transit system. We want to park our cars and ride comfortably to where we want to go. But Measure J was phony, a taxpayer rip-off that was brought down by an extraordinary coalition of the rich and poor and so many from virtually every corner of the region. It was historic and offers a blueprint of what people can do in defense of their own interests if they respect the interests of others.

For more than a century, the rich got richer profiting from sprawling development of this giant county. The demographics may have changed, but greed knows no racial or other boundaries, and so they are seeking to profit from vertical — rather than horizontal — development without building the kind of public transit system that is needed.

The King of Greed in L.A. today, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — in a desperate effort to salvage his own political legacy — drove support for Measure R four years ago knowing full well the $30 billion from a one-half-percent sales tax hike over 30 years was a fraction of the cost of building the subways, light rails, freeways and bridges he sought.

The transportation lobby — with generous aid from contractors, consultants, construction trades and naifs, like cyclists — managed to fool two-thirds of voters.

Needing a lot more money, they lobbied Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — for billions as if the largest city in the largest state that always votes Democratic has any real leverage. The result was they got far less than needed, so they came up with Measure J to borrow against another 30 years of sales tax revenue — as much as $90 billion — to have a chance to deliver what they had promised.

But there were issues.

Since 2008, bus service was gutted by 1 million hours, persecuting the transit-dependent and making their lives so much harder with fewer routes and longer waits for service when everybody everywhere knows it isn’t a “transit system” without high connectivity and high frequency of service.

Then, residents of South L.A. figured out that the new rail line they were getting would not have a stop in the heart of the community at Leimert Park, and that at-grade crossings were a danger to all.

And then Beverly Hills residents figured out that running the subway under their high school with its active gas and oil fields posed a danger to students since the only reason for the route was to enhance the property value of a developer with political clout and deep Chicago connections close to President Obama.

Residents from the harbors to Pasadena saw through what was going on with expansion of the 710 Freeway north to Interstate 10 and the extension beyond to Pasadena. It served only trucking companies and Teamsters drivers — at the expense of cleaner air and improved public transit — when a cheaper and cleaner alternative for freight was available at no cost to taxpayers from the railroads.

What formed out of the awakening of so many people from so many different backgrounds in so many neighborhoods was a coalition of ordinary people who beat the money machine, keeping Measure J more than 2 percentage points below the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

It just goes to show: You fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t always fool two-thirds of the people all the time.

“It’s a good day to be a transit rider in Los Angeles,” declared Damien Goodman, leader of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who had accused Villaraigosa of “betraying” his community.

For his part, Villaraigosa — who commands a near majority of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors — was described as “undaunted” by the defeat of what he hoped would be his political legacy and considering “some very innovative ideas about how we can accelerate transportation funding.”

Notice it is about funding to feed the construction industry and others who benefit — not how to provide a public transit system that gets people out of their cars and to where they want to go efficiently.

The plan needs to go back to the drawing boards and a new plan developed that puts the emphasis on cost-effective transit solutions, not costly highway projects.

For communities like Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, this is an extraordinary opportunity to get some kind of return on the transit taxes you pay mainly to benefit the Westside of Los Angeles.

Glendale Councilman and MTA board member Ara Najarian supported Measure J after getting a commitment that the 710 extension madness would be stopped and the money used to provide rapid buses and busways to connect communities like those along the 134 Freeway corridor that now have nothing.

Now, it’s going to take redoubled efforts to force officials to finally create a real transit system. It’s time we stopped being taken for a ride to nowhere, join the effort to get public transit that works for all.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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