Ballot Measure Report: Setting Priorities in Southeast L.A. County
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of LACBC’s Ballot Measure Report, which shares news from the front lines of our campaign to win dedicated funding for biking and walking in Los Angeles County’s next transportation ballot measure. Follow campaign updates on the LACBC blog or on Twitter at #metrofundwalkbike.
In previous Ballot Measure Reports, we’ve covered the need for billions in new funding for walking and biking (“active transportation”) and best practices from other California counties to dedicate significant funding from sales tax measures. Here in Los Angeles County, a number of community-based organizations and policy leaders have have coalesced around our recommendation of allocating at least 10 percent of the next ballot measure to active transportation. Metro is currently developing the expenditure plan for the potential ballot measure and has received input from many different stakeholders around the county. Among the most influential stakeholders in Metro’s process are the seven Councils of Governments (COGs) that represent groups of cities in different parts of Los Angeles County. Metro’s “bottoms-up” process has provided COGs unprecedented involvement in setting priorities for the expenditure plan, and each COG has responded differently to their new role.
Early in their process, Metro assumed that half of any future ballot measure revenue (approximately $23.4 billion in 2015 dollars) would be spent on capital projects and the other half would be spent on transit operations and local return. (Local return is a formula allocation to cities for local projects.) Metro then developed a formula based on present and projected population and employment in each of the county’s subregions, and set expenditure targets for each subregion to allocate to specific projects. Each COG (or other entity for those subregions that don’t have formal COGs established) made a list of its own priorities and assigned funding to those projects based on Metro’s expenditure targets.
Most subregions provided a balanced list of priorities, including transit, commuter rail, highway, and/or active transportation projects in their subregion. Some COGs favored transit (San Fernando Valley COG allocated 97.8 percent of their $3.1 billion to new light rail and bus rapid transit) and others focused on highways (South Bay Cities COG allocated 56.8 percent of their $2.2 billion to freeway and arterial projects), but almost all allocated significant funding for walking and biking. For the overall measure to invest at least 10 percent in active transportation, it is important for each subregion to also meet this benchmark.
One subregion in particular, the Gateway Cities COG, fell far short of this goal. In fact, the COG’s draft subregional priorities list allocated zero dollars to active transportation. The Gateway COG represents the cities in our Southeast Cities planning area (including Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Maywood, and Vernon), all of which have identified walking and biking as critical issues in their cities. For many people in these low-income communities of color, walking and biking aren’t choices–they rely on active transportation as the most affordable option available, regardless of whether it is safe or convenient. As more and more attention is paid to transportation’s effects on community health, environmental justice, and social equity, the need for significant investment in safe and convenient walking and biking networks in all communities–and particularly in low-income communities of color–is becoming ever more apparent.
The Gateway Cities COG includes LACBC’s Southeast Cities planning area, Long Beach, and Downey among its 27 member cities.
The Gateway Cities are significantly behind on planning for walking, biking, and safe routes to school. Until recently, very few cities in Southeast Los Angeles County had either a bike plan, pedestrian plan, or safe routes to school plan. In the last several years, this has started to change thanks to focused assistance from regional agencies like the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). LACBC continues to work with DPH, SCAG, and other funding agencies to complete additional plans for this subregion.
In the absence of local plans, the Gateway Cities COG has had the responsibility of setting transportation funding priorities without reliable information about what the needs are for walking and biking in their subregion. Their Strategic Transportation Plan (STP) attempted to do this by adding an active transportation element, but relied on cities to submit their local projects into the subregional plan–which only exacerbated the inequities between well-resourced cities with plans and low-income cities without them. The STP also includes a conceptual regional bike network that identifies desirable corridors for future improvements across multiple cities, but with no real definition of the proposed improvements and unreliable cost estimates as a result. The STP does not address pedestrian issues or safe routes to school.
While the STP does not provide a satisfactory analysis of the need for walking and biking in the subregion, Metro’s recent countywide active transportation needs assessment gives policymakers a rough idea of the scale of investment warranted. Metro estimated that between $11.0 billion and $29.5 billion is needed over 20 years to build out first/last-mile infrastructure, regional bikeways, and safe routes to school and for education and encouragement programs. The Gateway Cities comprise 17.7 percent of the county’s population and employment, which was the basis of their expenditure target in Metro’s formula, so it is reasonable to assume that a proportional amount of the county’s needs are located in the subregion. This suggests that between $1.9 billion and $5.2 billion are needed for active transportation within the Gateway Cities over the next 20 years.
The Gateway Cities COG allocated zero dollars to walking, biking, and safe routes to school, despite calling active transportation a “priority.”
Last August, the Gateway Cities COG board voted to set priorities for its $4.1 billion expenditure target. Since there was still uncertainty about the costs of some major projects at the time, rather than assigning funding to specific projects, the COG opted to set overall priorities and let staff allocate funding consistent with those priorities. The three priorities, as voted on by the COG board, were: 1) complete Measure R transit and highway projects, 2) active transportation, and 3) additional projects identified in the STP.
Despite this clear language making active transportation a priority for ballot measure funding, the subsequent funding matrix did not include any money for active transportation. The lack of consistency between the board’s action and the actual funding allocations was raised at the January meeting of the COG’s Transportation Committee, with no clear answer for why the allocations did not include active transportation. The COG board is expected to discuss this issue and consider revising their funding priorities at their next meeting on Wednesday, February 3rd, at 6:00 p.m. (The Transportation Committee meets at 4:30 p.m. on the same day.) COG board meetings are held at their offices at 16401 Paramount Blvd, Paramount, CA 90723. LACBC invites partners located in the Gateway Cities subregion to address the COG board during public comment.