The delusion behind Measure J tells you a lot about L.A.

traffic.jpg There's an amazing quote from Richard Katz in this morning's LAT about why it's so important to support Measure J, which would extend the county's sales tax hike from from 30 to 60 years (2068 but who's counting). Katz, who is Mayor Villaraigosa's transportation advisor,says that the extension would help accelerate construction of various transit projects, including the subway to the sea Westwood and that work would pump tens of billions of dollars into the economy. "Based on the revenue that I think will come in, I don't think we'll need a fare increase through the life of Measure J," he said. Really? Economists will tell you that they can't forecast the economy going out six months, much less six decades, so already I'm a tad skeptical. As to why it's so important to be thinking about 2068, the LAT editorializes that transit officials would be able borrow money on the bond market in the near future and then repay that money "from anticipated tax revenues that would roll in after 2039."I'm not saying that's necessarily wrong (though it sounds mighty fishy). But it is certainly wrongheaded.

More to the point, why is the current crop of lawmakers so fixated on projects that will not be realized in many of our lifetimes? What about now? Hell, what about five years from now? Here's one obvious possibility: Long-term planning is easy - at least it's easier than dealing with the extremely messy present. If you're sitting on the MTA board or the city council, wouldn't you rather concentrate on lofty goals instead of intractable problems like deficits and layoffs - problems that will not end happily? Instead of being labeled incompetent, you'll be come off as some sort of visionary. And if things don't work out as planned (raising fares, for instance), well, you'll be long out of the picture. Trouble is, the long view does nothing to help resolve the current traffic problems (note how much of the rhetoric in support of these measures focuses on job creation rather than any easing of congestion). Boosters would no doubt claim that L.A.'s bottlenecks defy short-term solutions, but that's a dubious argument. After two episodes of Carmageddon, along with the ongoing ramp closures on Wilshire Boulevard, motorists seem able to adapt reasonably well to changing traffic patterns, so long as they're provided some help. What's needed are shorter-term strategies for incrementally improving rush-hour flows. Of course no one is much interested in that because they're incremental. Who wants to cut commuter times by a measly three or four minutes? Also, incremental change won't result in big gleaming edifices plastered with the names of the people responsible. Future generations wouldn't be saying, "Thank God for Antonio Villaraigosa. If it weren't for him... well, who knows where we would be." Yup, I'm sure that's how it would happen.

More by Mark Lacter:
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Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Campaign 2012 stories:
Cost of Berman-Sherman campaign: $16.3 million
Now that's close: Measure J falls 0.56 percent short
Santa Monica mayor resigns, heads to Sacramento
Measure J edges closer to (but not over) 2/3
Richard Bloom's lead grows in Westside Assembly race

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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