Measure M is one of the most promising ballot measures to pass in Los Angeles County in recent years. It offers $120 billion in long-term sales tax revenue to fund transportation projects — the kind of money that can help transform mobility in the region.
But the money brings perils, too, which I describe in a Los Angeles Times op-ed today:
If history is any guide, L.A. transit leaders have a habit of prioritizing politically expedient projects over ones that would benefit more riders. Faced with NIMBY opposition, our leaders too often cave.
Just look at the Expo Line from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, a route that remains hampered by slow travel times after transit leaders failed to give the train priority over automobiles along city streets. Additionally, failure to push through with adequate development projects along the route denied this expensive rail technology an easy ridership boost.
Will transportation leaders similarly compromise away good Measure M projects until they go bad?
To answer this question, it’s important to understand what a “good” project entails. Cost-effectiveness — using the fewest dollars to move the most people the greatest distance — is key. Projects should attract maximal ridership, based on existing population, job density and service quality. Potential ridership, based on the feasibility of building more housing, retail and offices within walking distance of stations, is another crucial determinant. (The failure of the anti-growth Measure S in the recent L.A. election adds even more weight to this component.) Finally, projects should maximize reductions in overall driving miles, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The piece details some immediate tests facing Metro leaders and offers recommendations to ensure that they make smart decisions. The long-term future of LA in many ways will be determined by these short-term actions.
It was a big victory last night for the Los Angeles economy and environment. Voters decisively rejected Measure S, a city measure that would have essentially frozen development for at least two years, with incredibly detrimental effects on local rents, housing prices, construction jobs, and sprawl.
The measure garnered just 31.5 percent of the vote, as LA Curbed reported. A broad coalition of environmental groups, labor unions, and homeless advocates, coupled with almost all major political leaders (including the governor), mobilized against it. Homeowners groups largely comprised the pro side.
Despite the broad opposition, many smart growth advocates were nervous about the vote. It’s a low-turnout election in March, and homeowner groups were really playing up the “overdevelopment” and “corrupt City Hall” angle to the measure. And on the heels of Brexit and Trump, it seemed plausible that Los Angeles voters would succumb to the same anxiety over changes in their communities, coupled with distrust of elites.
But the positive outcome won’t solve the development challenges in Los Angeles, as even the anti-Measure S groups conceded. The city suffers from a lack of comprehensive planning to ensure growth happens in the right places (near transit, largely) and to avoid the project-by-project approval processes that open the system up to abuse and inefficiency.
My hope is that the coalition that assembled against the measure continues to stay engaged on this issue of long-term planning in the city. They may even find common cause with some of the pro-S forces.
But for now, smart growth advocates and environmentalists can breathe a huge sigh of relief that ballot box planning didn’t rule the day.
Los Angeles voters face a major decision on Tuesday: will the city retreat from future growth in existing urbanized areas, worsening its current path of income inequality, economic decline for most of the population, severe traffic and air pollution? Because that’s what Measure S would largely achieve.
The measure would effectively halt new development for the next two years that involves any planning changes, putting development pressure on areas currently zoned for more development, usually in disadvantaged communities. The result will be a broken status quo that will only get worse, keeping Los Angeles only affordable to the very wealthy and displacing or pushing everyone else out into sprawl and far from good-paying jobs.
I think most sides of this land use battle would agree on one thing: Los Angeles needs better planning to ensure more development in the right places (near transit and jobs). This measure would not help achieve that goal though. It will instead mostly benefit existing homeowners who were fortunate enough to buy their homes at the right time or have the incomes to afford decent housing near jobs.
These individuals fear “overdevelopment” and density in their neighborhoods, and they want government to intervene to prevent it from happening. It’s the Anti-Sanctuary City.
Madaleine Brand hosted a lively one-hour discussion of Measure S yesterday on KCRW radio, featuring many of the leading voices on the issue from all sides:
Fingers crossed that Angelenos make the right call on Tuesday, or the region will have just taken a giant step backward in terms of economic, environmental and quality-of-life outcomes.
And in the long run, my hope is that a defeated Measure S will still spark a long-overdue discussion in Los Angeles about better planning.
After just passing a landmark sales tax measure in November to boost transit investments, Los Angeles now risks throwing all that progress out the window this March.
Local NIMBYs have placed Measure S (as in “Sucky”) on the ballot then, in order to effectively stick the city in formaldehyde to benefit current property owners. They claim it will save the city from an “overdevelopment” housing boom and corruption of City Hall leaders by developers.
Far from experiencing a housing boom, Los Angeles is almost 30 years into a prolonged housing slump.
Data from the American Community Survey shows that between 1940 and 1990, L.A. built between 150,000 and 250,000 homes each decade. In the decades since, we’ve averaged fewer than 100,000. The 2010-2019 decade isn’t looking any better. As of 2015, only 13% of the city’s housing stock was built after 1990.
He notes property owners have an incentive to clamp down on supply through this initiative:
A 2015 report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office claims that L.A. County built 1 million fewer homes than were needed to keep housing prices in line with average U.S. growth rates over the past 30 years. The latest data from the Census Bureau puts L.A.’s rental vacancy rates at historic lows of less than 3%, which has empowered landlords to raise rents on existing homes and has driven up the cost of new development. Of the most crowded 1% of census tracts in the U.S., about half are in L.A. County. These are the symptoms of a housing shortage, not an oversupply.
Some might argue that the problem isn’t too little construction, it’s just that L.A. is full up. We’ve run up against the mountains, the ocean and neighboring jurisdictions. But in reality, a city is only full when it chooses to be, and bad luck to anyone who doesn’t already own property when that choice is made.
Meanwhile, he cites Seattle as a city that is building smart around transit. As a result, it’s largely been able to stabilize rents through targeted density.
It will be a shame if this measure passes and dooms future generations in the region to stifling housing costs or long commutes, all while turning Los Angeles into a third world-style bastion of inequality, as only the wealthy can afford homes. I hope that reality never comes to pass, but it will take defeating this measure in March to prevent it.