The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to place a proposed extension of a sales tax for transit projects on the November ballot—just one day after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority threatened to sue if the county failed to do so.
The supervisors debated the issue at length, at one point meeting behind
closed doors for more than half an hour before approving what would typically be a purely administrative matter.
The county manages elections for federal, state and local offices and propositions through its registrar's office. The board routinely approves adding ballot items from other jurisdictions—such as school boards, city governments and water districts—to upcoming election ballots.
The supervisors have no authority to deny such requests unless the county lacks sufficient computer capacity, voting equipment or appropriate ballots needed to consolidate elections from different jurisdictions, according to the county's lead attorney, John Krattli.
But Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who also chairs the Metro Board of Directors, said he hoped to use the county's administrative authority to challenge the measure.
The Metro proposition seeks to continue a half-cent traffic relief sales tax—originally approved as Measure R in 2008—for 30 more years. The tax is already set to last until 2039. Approval of the November ballot proposal would extend it until 2069.
According to the language of the proposition, the revenue is used to "advance Los Angeles County's traffic relief, economic growth/job creation, by accelerating construction of light rail/subway/airport connections within five years, not 20; funding countywide freeway traffic flow/safety/bridge improvements, pothole repair; keeping senior/student/disabled fares low."
But Antonovich called that "false advertising."
"To tell people that this will all be done in five years [is] utter nonsense,'' he said.
Proponents say the measure would allow Metro to take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs to move projects ahead more quickly and cheaply.
Metro would borrow money against the future revenues to accelerate current Measure R transit projects, including a subway extension to Westwood and a Gold Line extension to reach San Gabriel Valley foothill communities.
"It helps complete our transportation projects more quickly," said Cosette Stark, Metro's director of transportation programming and development.
Stark pointed to studies by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation calculating that 250,000 jobs would also come on line faster as a result of the extension.
But opponents contend the proposal gives Metro a blank check and object to how specific projects are being prioritized.
Apparently anticipating an effort by Antonovich to avoid placing the issue on the ballot, Metro officials sent a fax to the county at 9 p.m. Monday threatening a lawsuit if the Board of Supervisors failed to act, according to county attorney Krattli.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky today called the idea of forcing Metro into holding its own separate election—at a cost of about $10 million—"bizarre and totally goofy."
"This is an attempt to create as much controversy around this as possible and frustrate the MTA's vote," Yaroslavsky said.
— ELIZABETH MARCELLINO, City News Service