Light rail expansion has a lot riding on the fate of Measure M, a half-cent sales tax hike on the Nov. 8 ballot

By Gary Walker

A rendering of the Metro Green Line Aviation Station in Westchester, one of the projects that would receive Measure M funding Image courtesy of Metro

A rendering of the Metro Green Line Aviation Station in Westchester, one of the projects that would receive Measure M funding
Image courtesy of Metro

The success of Measure M may hinge on what some transportation experts argue has plagued Los Angeles County light rail development for decades: regional and provincial politics.

The proposed half-cent county sales tax increase for the next 40 years would raise about $860 million per year for regional transportation improvements, including the Green Line Airport Connector in Westchester and eventually the line’s extension into the South Bay.

Proceeds would also help pay for new freeway express lanes, local street repair projects and new bus lines, such as a Lincoln Boulevard express bus that would connect the LAX to Expo Line trains in Santa Monica.

Measure M builds on the legacy of 2008’s Measure R, the half-cent sales tax that helped bring the Expo Line to Santa Monica. Passing Measure M would extend the Measure R tax, set to expire in 2039, until voters took future action to end it.

Some of the most rigid opposition to Measure M comes from cities in the South Bay, which local leaders say have been at the back of the line for light rail projects and will continue to be under Metro’s current transit plans. They’d like to see
the South Bay Green Line Metro Extension construction timeline accelerated.

Although South Bay projects are slated to receive $2.8 billion in Measure M proceeds over the next four decades, including some immediate funding for local infrastructure needs, the Green Line extension to Torrance will not be built until after the 2019 completion of the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor Line.

“We don’t think going second is going at all,” South Bay Cities Council of Governments Executive Director Jacki Bacharach said. “Our major projects don’t get funded until 2040. The second-decade project projects won’t get done.”

The council opposes Measure M, arguing that the initiative favors other cities and that South Bay residents should get more for their money, especially when it comes to roadway improvements.

“It needs to pay more attention to the infrastructure that we have. We believe that it is fundamentally unsound,” said Bacharach, who was a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, the agency that preceded Metro.

The South Bay’s vote could be crucial because Measure M requires a two-thirds supermajority for approval.

Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern, an avid supporter of Measure M who chairs the nonprofit transportation advocacy group the Transit Coalition, agrees with Bacharach that South Bay projects are too far down on Metro’s priority list.

But opposing Measure M will not get South Bay leaders what they want, he said.

“The South Bay has been mistreated because they have not been prioritized in Metro’s funding plans, but they will be hurt even more in the future if they don’t have Metro’s funding,” said Alpern, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council. “The best way to ensure that there will not be a South Bay extension is to not pass Measure M.”

Bacharach said Metro representatives “rushed” the initiative onto the November ballot unnecessarily.

“We’re saying wait a couple of years and get this right,” she said.

Yes on Measure M campaign spokesman Yusef Robb disagrees.

“The Los Angeles traffic crisis requires a bigger response than there has been to date. Our infrastructure is aging, and we have to act now,” he said.

Robb, formerly a spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, noted that a recent report by the nonprofit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation states Measure M would create 465,000 new jobs.

Bacharach said South Bay leaders are willing to reconsider a new transit plan, but not until after November.

“We’re saying we’ll sit down the day this thing is defeated and address what’s going on throughout the county, not just in one area,” she said.

Both candidates running to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes both LAX and the South Bay, have called for the beach cities to get more Measure M funding for light rail and other transportation infrastructure.

“I support measure M but with strong reservations for the 4th [supervisorial] district,” reads a statement by frontrunner Rep. Janice Hahn (D- San Pedro).  “Transportation projects create good jobs. Los Angeles County cannot rely on the federal government for this funding. At the same time, the spending needs to be fair, and I will fight to fast track the projects in the 4th district that have been promised.”

Hahn opponent Steve Napolitano, who could not be reached, said months ago that he would back Measure M “as long as the South Bay gets its fair share of projects, more geographic equity and resources.”

Alpern said he thinks members of the Metro board, which includes L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, should push harder for fast-tracking South Bay projects.

“But not passing Measure M is the wrong way to do this,” he cautioned South Bay voters. “Measure M is meant to create the entire Southern California mass transit network, and it will get things in motion for the next 20 to 30 years.”