Can the San Fernando Valley Say Yes to Trains?

The end of the Orange Line busway
The end of the Orange Line busway
Frederick Dennstedt / via Flickr

San Fernando Valley leaders are fond of complaining that there are 86 train stations in the Metro system, and only two of them are in the Valley.

The MTA's new $120 billion transit tax would change that, building two new rail lines and a busway in the Valley, while also upgrading intersections on the existing Orange Line busway and eventually converting it to rail.

Compared with some other regions in the county, the Valley is getting a great deal, and it's getting it relatively soon, with the Van Nuys line set for 2027 and the Sepulveda Pass tunnel coming in 2033. And yet, some Valley leaders are dissatisfied. Sen. Bob Hertzberg issued a statement on Friday expressing his displeasure with the scheduling.

"I’m disappointed that the Valley will see so little impact over the next 10 years," Hertzberg said. 

Hertzberg also has been pushing for two new busways that would connect to Cal State Northridge, and was disappointed that they were not included in the plan. In his statement, Hertzberg vowed to "take a much-needed sharp pencil to this plan and make sure the Valley isn't shortchanged again."

"They still have a tough sell in the Valley," said Richard Katz, a former Valley assemblyman and a seasoned veteran of transportation politics. "They've said it’s a work in progress and that’s a good idea, because it needs a lot of work."

The tax plan seems to have split the Valley along generational lines. A newer crop of Valley leaders is celebrating the spending plan. L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who serves on the MTA board, called it a "golden opportunity." The Valley Industry and Commerce Association called it a "huge victory" for the Valley and is campaigning for its approval.

Coby King, founder of Valley on Track, said growing support for transit projects in the Valley reflects the area's urbanization, and a shedding of its traditional car culture.

"I think the Valley will support it very strongly, and will be a major contributor to getting it passed in November," King said.

With a two-thirds threshold required for passage, support from every corner of the county will matter. Measure R passed with 67 percent of the vote in 2008. Measure J, which would have extended Measure R for 30 years, failed with 66 percent in 2012.

A data analysis by the L.A. Times in 2013 found that support dropped off sharply in the South Bay and in Beverly Hills, which was fighting the Wilshire subway. Support for both measures was stronger in the center of the county and weaker in the suburbs.

Several suburban leaders have expressed displeasure with the low priority given to their projects in the new measure. Officials in the South Bay, the southeast cities and the Antelope Valley have all said that the plan strongly favors the city of L.A. at the expense of suburban areas. They have warned that if their concerns are not addressed, their constituents may vote down the measure.

"I think there's flexibility. I think there's a willingness to listen to people," said Bill Carrick, the political consultant to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who will be running the campaign to pass the tax measure. "We’re trying to have a ballot measure that is something that every community can rally around."

At the MTA board meeting on Thursday, Garcetti argued for passing the measure, with the hope of accelerating some suburban projects later on with federal money. But Inglewood Mayor James Butts took a different tack, offering a proposal to give top priority to projects that were part of Measure R. That proposal, co-signed by Supervisor Don Knabe and Lakewood Councilwoman Diane DuBois, would give a high priority to suburban projects at the expense of some newer projects in the city of L.A.

If push comes to shove, Garcetti has the votes on the MTA board to pass his preferred version of the tax. The city of L.A. controls four seats on the 13-member board. Two other seats belong to county supervisors who represent large chunks of Los Angeles. And the current plan also gives high priority to the Gold Line extension to Claremont — despite very low ridership projections — which is key to winning the support of two more MTA members who represent the San Gabriel Valley. That brings the plan to majority support.

But it would be better, from a political standpoint, to craft the measure so as to have the broadest support possible. The November vote is likely to be very close and any dissent could sink it.


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