Measure J Gets 65% Support and Doesn’t Pass
The news wasn’t all good for passenger rail on Election Day. Los Angeles County’s Measure J, which would have extended the sales tax for transportation that was approved in 2008 by another 30 years, got 64.72% of the vote – and therefore “lost” according to the idiotic rule requiring a 2/3 vote to raise taxes in California. Measure J would have allowed acceleration of a variety of rail projects in LA, and while Measure J’s failure doesn’t mean those projects are dead, it does mean it’ll take a little while longer to build out electric rail.
The “defeat” of Measure J is being hailed as a victory by the anti-transit Bus Riders Union:
“I think this clearly for us was about trying to show from the community that we were not going to give a vote of confidence to (the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and obviously MTA could not pass the [two-thirds] threshold,” said Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union, a group that strongly opposed Measure J.
“We’re very happy about it,” Yang said. “We had pretty much a grass-roots guerrilla campaign where we had to compete to get into the media and on the radio waves. … We had to generate a lot of events and media, as well as phone banking.”
The BRU’s opposition to Measure J wasn’t surprising. They are a highly ideological group, founded and backed by an obscure sectarian group in LA, the Labor Community Strategy Center. Led by Eric Mann, the LCSC burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with organizing against the closure of an auto plant in Van Nuys, and then did some good work going after oil refineries in the South Bay. In 1996, they hit upon a winning strategy by forming the Bus Riders Union, on the strange argument that investing in rail lines was something benefiting the rich at the expense of the low income people who relied on bus transit. The BRU won a consent decree in federal court against Metro’s rail planning, one reason why Metro is only now able to start the big buildout of the rail network LA once had and desperately needs again.
The irony is that if you’ve ever actually been on Metro Rail in LA, you’ll see that most of its riders are just as diverse in terms of racial, social, and class backgrounds as you find on a bus. Metro Rail lines help provide reliable, affordable, speedy transit options for a whole range of Southern Californians. Those factors matter a lot to the working class folks that the BRU claims as their base. At the end of a long day working in the service industry, people just want to get home quickly to their families without spending a lot of money or getting stuck in traffic. Rail provides that opportunity.
As gas prices continue to rise, so too does Metro’s operating costs for the bus fleet. That’s not an argument against buses, but it IS an argument for more rail. Rail’s operating costs aren’t subject to gas price spikes, especially as LA’s electric power generally comes from non-fossil fuel sources whose costs are stable. By providing more rail on the most heavily used travel corridors, Metro can move a lot more people for less money in the coming years than buses can.
That’s not an argument that rail should be favored over buses. LA needs both. And they need people who will advocate for raising the revenue to fund a robust mass transit system, with rail lines moving people quickly along the main corridors and connecting the stations to other neighborhoods with reliable, frequent bus service.
But that doesn’t fit with the BRU/LCSC ideology that rail is for the rich and therefore must be opposed, and so they continue to try and convince low income voters and communities of color that Metro’s rail building plans come at their expense. It’s a strategy that doesn’t do any favors for mass transit or the people that depend on it.
Of course, it wouldn’t matter what the BRU thought if California didn’t have that obnoxious and destructive 2/3 rule. Prop 30 was able to pass with 54% of the vote because it amended the state constitution. With the tax revolt over as a political force, maybe California can begin to rip out the legal and constitutional remnants of that destructive movement. 64% is a big win and Measure J ought to be law.