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Supervisor Explains His 'No' Vote on Transit Sales Tax

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County Supervisor Michael Antonovich responded early this evening to Mayor Villaraigosa's letter from yesterday that urged a reverse vote to put a sales tax increase for transit funding on the November ballot. The increase could raise $30 to $40 billion for the county in 30 years, all dedicated to transit, but mostly public transit (and it could still make the ballot if state politicians pass a bill allowing voters to authorize a tax, albeit on a separate and costly [in the millions] ballot).

Antonovich wants to see a more equal distribution of funds, citing north county areas like the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys (which are expected to heavily grow in population to 11% of the total pop.), will only receive 5% of the funding (Santa Clarita is the 4th largest city in the county). He says 5% also goes to the San Fernando Valley which represents 15% of the county's population. And to his credit, he does a little 405 transit connector bashing calling the proposed project "mythical." According to the Daily News earlier this week, whatever solution that there will be for the 405 Freeway-Sepulveda Pass, it will be be done by year 2038. We'll hope that date is mythical too because a high speed rail train from LA to San Francisco will have a shorter trip than a public transit trip from Van Nuys to San Pedro down the 405 corridor.

Antonovich's letter, in full, is below:

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Dear Mayor Villaraigosa: Thank you for your letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors requesting reconsideration on the vote regarding the half-cent sales tax.

You are correct that our long-term transportation needs require significant public investment in transportation alternatives, including highway improvements, public-private partnerships, and other congestion relief measures (e.g., traffic signal synchronization, left/right turn arrows, inland intermodal freight transfer facilities, and regionalization of air traffic to LA/Palmdale and LA/Ontario Airports).

Your proposal was a reverse Robin Hood--taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. The MTA's grand 30-year half-cent sales tax measure failed to tackle these critical, regional issues facing the entire County. This proposal was poorly constructed, rushed through an inadequate and abbreviated process and ignored true regional collaboration. Moreover, the plan was stripped of amendments put forth by five MTA Board members to provide the equity necessary to protect the County taxpayers and build a regional transportation system.

You raised a concern about the disenfranchisement of voters in your letter. My vote against the sales tax proposal was precisely for that reason--this measure disenfranchises County voters and does not return their tax dollars in an equitable manner to invest in needed transportation infrastructure.

The Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys will get 5% of new project funding, but this subregion will expand to 11% of the County's population in the next 30 years. The San Fernando Valley represents almost 15% of the County population, but at most it will receive 5% of the project funds, with two-thirds of that money tied up in a mythical 405 transit connector. The San Gabriel Valley and Gateway Cities will be shortchanged hundreds of millions of dollars in this proposal. Meanwhile the Westside Cities will receive 9% of the funding with only 2% of the County's population. Also, billions of state and federal dollars the MTA will leverage from these new sales tax dollars are not guaranteed to be shared equally throughout the County.

This current measure is steeped in a cynical political calculation that the November presidential election turnout, the tangible Countywide frustration with traffic problems and the desperation to do something would be enough to win a two-thirds majority, even if the proposed sales tax measure was against the best interests of the County voters.

There is a path forward that provides a successful solution, but it requires your leadership as Chairman of the MTA Board, your faith in the spirit of collaboration and consensus building with the full MTA Board, and your trust in the voices of the subregional areas of Los Angeles County.

It is my hope that you will consider the following course of action:

1. Withdraw the sales tax measure from the November 2008 ballot;

2. Engage each of the subregional Council of Governments (COGs) on the principle of equity underpinning the sales tax proposal and discuss project lists, funding amounts, funding schedules, protections and operational issues;

3. Develop a new sales tax proposal based on input and broad countywide consensus from each city, unincorporated community, COG and MTA Board member; and

4. When this process achieves countywide consensus, place the measure on the Spring 2009 ballot.

By following this course of action, the MTA Board can present a stronger, better, equitable and consensus-based vision for the expenditure of billions of County taxpayer dollars that actually has a chance of being approved by the County voters.

It is clear that this sales tax measure would never have been so fatally flawed if the MTA Board had additional representation from the subregions in Los Angeles County. You need to support the expansion of the MTA Board to include two new representatives from the subregions so that critical decisions like these are made in a truly collaborative manner in the future. In particular, the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys--the fastest growing region of the County--need their own seat at the table.



We still think Antonovich is wrong in asking for a more equitable funding setup and think that the less cars on the road in densist part of the region (as in downtown and the Westside), the better traffic will be in general. Think about it, less cars in front of you means you'll get where you want faster.