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Like a dream come true: Solving L.A. traffic and transit problems for $25 a year each

Even before the governor signed legislation allowing the MTA to put its $40 billion tax hike on the November ballot, mailboxes at homes all over Los Angeles County — all 3.87 million of them – were filled with beautiful and colorful 16-page brochures explaining what your money will buy.

It reads like a transportation miracle: Eased congrestion, freeway and street and rail and bus expansions, more synchronized lights and pothole repairs, safer roads for drivers and cyclists and pedestrians, safer and cleaner transit and — unbelievably — existing fares will be maintained “especially for seniors and the disabled.”

Best of all, your taxes will “enable people and freight to move freely in L.A. County.”

Now that is quite an education we got for our money but I’m skeptical. These are carefully scripted claims that could be fulfilled with one extra pothole, one extra synchronized light and so on right through the wish list.

It all depends what actual plans get developed and implemented, how much costs run out of control as they always do and most of all which projects go first. So the likelihood is there won’t be money left 20 years from now to complete everything especially with the top two projects being the costliest of all: The “subway-nearly-to-the–sea” or more precisely Westwood and the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica.

Out of all the information contained in the education and “information purposes only” brochure, there seems to be one serious omission: No timeline.

Understand, this is about educating voters — advocating they actually vote for the wish list. That’s because the MTA is forbidden by law from using public money to advocating support for the half-cent sales tax. It can only inform the public about what the plans are for their money but there’s no law that says they have to give complete information.

Crimes of commission, no. Crimes of omission, yes. MTA officials say they were scrupulous on that point and a dozen lawyers carefully went over every word, every element of the brochure. Sorry, I forgot to ask how they billed for their work.

But I did get what the 3.87 million brochures cost to print: $486,360 at at about 12. 5 cents. And to mail at 13.7 each or $528.297 each. A total of $1,014,657 in public money — nearly a quarter of the total budget authorized by the MTA in July for its “information purposes only” education campaign.

The $4 million or so in public money for education is undoubtedly a drop in the bucket compared to what contractors, consultants, unions and other special interests will cough up to actually convince the public that their $40 billion will really, truly, honestly produce a traffic and transit system that works in 30 years.

You can trust them on that, I’m sure. Just because billions and billions have been poured into transportation projects for the last 30 years and congestion keeps getting worse is no reason to question the MTA this. Remember that old stock market rule: Past performance is no indicator of future performance.

I’m not a bad lawyer mayself and I’ve gone through the brochure and I could defend everything in it as educational, not advocacy. I’m also not a bad journalist and I get a certain delight in showing that it does make promises that are meaningless, vague or questionable since nothing is actually costed out.

And if you really believe that “people and freight will move freely in L.A. County” in 30 years, you’re a dreamer or gullible. They are saying where in L.A. County this will occur and they certainly aren’t saying it will happen in all or most or anywhere in particular.

I affirm to you the language in the brochure is as perfectly “educational” as lawyers could make it without actually promising anything that could make officials accountability for how they spend your money.

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13 Responses to Like a dream come true: Solving L.A. traffic and transit problems for $25 a year each

  1. Anonymous says:

    Remember that old stock market rule: Past performance is no indicator of future performance. Also remember the “p” principle: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. NOT!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I read that brochure while waiting for the debate tonight and I have to tell you, none of it impressed me. A flashy, expensive brochure with what???? I looked for improvements in the Valley and there are to be none except possibly the Canoga Avenue bus between Victory and Devonshire already in progress.
    I don’t anyone who would do that trip, do you? Will some developer build those ugly apt buildings within walking distance so that those people can take those buses?
    Now I did not look to see if the subway to the ocean is listed, I didn’t think to. I will never use it.
    Ron, all these people impress each other, perhaps, but they don’t impress me. I am voting no on Measure R. And furthermore, I am telling my friends and family what I think. The cost of this mailing shocks me.

  3. Walter Moore says:

    I think the brochure, like most political ads, isn’t really designed to persuade a serious reader — like the people who read this blog.
    Rather, all they have to do is make a favorable impression with pretty pictures, vague claims, and the illusion of substance, so that when L.A. voters show up to vote in the Presidential election — the only issue they really care deeply about, except maybe Prop 8 — they’ll go ahead and vote “yes” on this while they’re at it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think you guys need to do a bit more research. One example: no timeline? Metro has spent the last several months crafting a very precise expenditure plan, which anyone can view at the measure R website.
    And regarding the Orange Line extension: Measure R will speed up the construction by as much as 4 years and it would open in 2012 instead of 2016. Measure R would also accelerate the Crenshaw corridor project.
    Furthermore, many projects that are absolutely critical for our county, such as the Regional Connector, would have NO chance of being built without this funding.

  5. From L.A. says:

    All this is nice p.r. for MTA people but the fact of the matter is that ALL modes of transit will be obsolete as insufficient to meet needs on whatever IS built, or even started from these funds- because MORE money will undoubtedly be needed as costs overruns and real life take over.
    We will have much like what happens now, new freeways and new segments wind up jammed at “rush hours” as soon as they open.
    Too many people and no real planning- sorry.

  6. Anonymous says:

    By from L.A. You have nailed it.
    Thank you. And I am beginning to realize that
    these messages like the one filled with “reasons” why MTA is doing great and deserve that bond issue are hired on by the city to counteract our messages – especially when we are getting too close for comfort for them.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It reads like a transportation miracle:
    Eased congestion, freeway and street and rail and bus expansions, more synchronized lights and pothole repairs, safer roads for drivers and cyclists and pedestrians, safer and cleaner transit and — unbelievably — existing fares will be maintained “especially for seniors and the disabled.”
    Yeah, and I have some snake oil that will cure all your ills.

  8. Ellen says:

    It’s easy to be a nay-sayer; that kind of approach doesn’t require you to present any of your own solutions to intractable problems. LA County has the worst traffic and air quality in the country. If you think it’s bad now, how would you propose to deal with the congestion that will plague us daily when an additional 3 million people are born in LA County over the next 30 years? Let’s look at the facts.
    1. No one has said anywhere that Measure R is the complete answer to our transportation-related prayers; in fact, at the July Metro Board meeting the Mayor was very clear that $40 billion over 30 years, while enabling construction of many projects, will need to be leveraged to obtain additional federal, state, and public/private partnership dollars to build a truly regional transportation system.
    2. The Metro brochure is not law; you need to read the Expenditure Plan attached to the ordinance to see the details that county residents will actually vote upon.
    - Projects are described in every corner of the county, WITH start and finish dates, costs and expected sources of funding for each project; a north/south extension of the Orange Line is one of the projects.
    - Once voters approve Measure R, only a 2/3 vote of the Metro Board can change the plan on one year’s notice to the Legislature and after public hearing.
    - This is a very tightly written measure, with annual audits and a panel of transportation experts, commuters and judges to provide oversight.
    3. Perhaps the most important feature of the measure is local control; the environmental process for each project ensures public input, and the Metro Board can put the reins on cost overruns as it sees fit. Large projects like the subway extension will be built in phases as funds are available.
    4. Unlike state funds, which can and have been raided to help balance the general fund, locally generated revenues can be bonded against and cannot be touched.
    5. Sales tax revenues are to be allocated
    35% to new rail and/or bus rapid transit capital projects, 20% to carpool lanes, highways, goods movement, grade separations and soundwalls, 20% for bus operations with fare increases frozen for a year, and student, senior, disabled and Medicare fares frozen for 4 more years, 15% for ‘local return’(all 88 cities in the county and unincorporated areas) for signal synchronization, bikeways, pothole repair, street resurfacing, etc. 5% to rail ops, 2% to Metro Rail capital system improvements and 3% to Metrolink capital improvement projects.
    6. If Measure R doesn’t pass, there are NO new funds available to build any of the myriad projects in the expenditure plan for the next 30 years. Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan is the blueprint for what can be built IF we have new revenue from Measure R.
    Twenty-five years ago, the transit system we have today did not exist. Metro built it. You can criticize the agency or you can pull together to make it work.

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