Last Monday night, a City Council majority voted to adopt a resolution in support of accelerating the Northern Extension of the Metro Crenshaw/LAX line. The resolution sounds innocuous enough – but the devil is in the details.
Here are the details:
1. This vote will cost us $70 to $550 million in addition to the 3% match required by Metro, which is $42 to $66 million. The amounts depend on the final alignment (route) of the Northern Extension — e.g., La Brea, Fairfax, La Cienega or San Vicente – as well as the project delivery scope and schedule.
2. Regardless of the route of the Northern Extension, the city is committing to expedited environmental review and permitting. This could mean less time for public review and community input.
While I’m 100% in favor of public transportation and fully know the benefits (as I learned growing up in Brooklyn New York!), I think it’s irresponsible to commit city efforts, staff, and your money to a project where we don’t know the route of the extension.
Shouldn’t a $616 million commitment have a discussion and not just a consent vote on a meeting agenda?
I pulled the item from the consent calendar to initiate dialogue. For me, placing this item on consent calendar raises red flags about transparency and public process, particularly considering the significant amount of money involved in this decision. The City Council is responsible for good stewardship of public funds — and the public deserves to be provided the facts — the pros as well as the cons — and to be part of that discussion.
My colleagues argued that West Hollywood voters were overwhelmingly supportive of Measure M and would want an accelerated timeline. But were West Hollywood voters informed of the potential costs of acceleration?
On Nov. 8, 2016, voters were asked: “To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake-retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ ¢ sales tax and continue the existing ½ ¢ traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?”
There was no mention of matching funds or the need for bonds or a local sales tax or private/public partnerships. There was no choice given between a non-accelerated option that could cost the City of West Hollywood an estimated $42 to $66 million versus an accelerated option that could cost the City of West Hollywood an estimated $112 to $616 million.
What’s the plan to fund up to $616 million?
Per Monday night’s staff report, sources of revenue could include a local sales tax, bonds, private investment, or value capture tools such as an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD), or additional state or federal funds.
Why are we ignoring the local tax poll results?
The staff report did not mention that in the fall of 2016 (just before the Measure M vote) the City of West Hollywood authorized $40,000 for a poll regarding a potential local tax initiative. FM3, a leading public policy polling company with 37 years of experience, was contracted to facilitate the poll.
A random sample of West Hollywood likely voters were asked, “Regardless of how you will vote on a local tax initiative, please tell us how important each feature or provision is to you personally?”
Results indicated that nine other features/provisions were of higher importance to these West Hollywood voters than providing matching funds to attempt to accelerate the extension of the light-rail line through West Hollywood — items such as expanding the city’s efforts to address homelessness, ensuring safe and clean public areas, increasing affordable housing, and assisting in earthquake retrofitting.
No one is disputing the fact that West Hollywood voters supported Measure M, as did a unanimous Council. And since 2015, the city has spent nearly $1.2 million on building support for the Northern Extension and trying to convince Metro to accelerate the build-out of this line.
The issue at hand is, do the people of West Hollywood want the city to commit to spending an additional $550 million to accelerate the project, and continue to put large sums of money into this effort, without knowing the exact final route of the expansion, and if that route best serves all businesses and residents of West Hollywood?