Bill Boyarsky
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Questions big and small for Measure M

subway-work-wilshire-labrea.jpgSubway construction at Wilshire and LaBrea. LA Observed photo.

I thought that taking the Expo Line downtown would be an appropriate way to hear Metro chief Phillip Washington speak. But as I settled into my seat, one of the crew announced that our train would go no further than the Crenshaw station and we would presumably have to transfer to buses. It turned out a man had stepped in front of a train, killing him and delaying trains.

So I walked home, got my car, and drove to the Palm, where Washington was speaking. Afterward, I encountered him while we were waiting for our cars and told him my troubles. He knew all about my experience that morning.

I was impressed. Here was someone who could talk big picture at his luncheon speech and, in a knowledgeable and pleasant manner, listen to a train rider’s complaint.

The big picture and the small picture occupied Washington during a talk and question-and-answer session at public affairs consultant Emma Schafer’s Current Affairs Forum Monday.

His main goal was to promote Measure M on the November ballot. It would increase the sales tax to raise $860 million the first year, and more in later years, to fund construction of more transit rail lines and other transportation infrastructure projects. The sales tax would go up by a half-cent at first, and more in future years. It has no expiration date, prompting critics to call it a forever tax.

“This is like God’s work,” Washington said. With so much construction for Metro, and for roads and highways and for development around the transit lines, a half million jobs will be created. “Unemployment will be cut in half,” he said. And with the sales tax increase becoming permanent, the areas served by Metro will have transportation needs met permanently. In the audience were representatives of building, engineering and law firms, along with unions and others who will benefit from the construction and who are expected to help raise $4.5 million for the M campaign.

That was a big picture point. But small picture questions could sink Measure M.

A member of the audience, legislative aide Saeed Ali, who is president of his West Los Angeles-Santa Monica area homeowners association, raised one such question. Traffic changes from the Expo lines resulted in buses running along a quiet residential street in his area. Repeated complaints to Metro have gone unanswered, he said. The Metro governing board, a relatively unknown group of local politicians, is “untouchable,” he said. Washington asked if the offending buses were Santa Monica Big Blue Buses. They were, Ali said. Washington said Metro would try to work something out with Santa Monica.

Such bureaucratic messes and a confusing bunch of local transit operators drive transit users and residents nuts. Who do you call when there’s a problem? Angry consumers add up to no votes for Measure M.

Washington and his supporters have three weeks to make their sale, a tough job with so many measures on the ballot plus all the attention centered on the presidential campaign.

Measure M’s fate will turn on issues as big as a proposed train tunnel though the Sepulveda Pass and as small as homeowners angered by a bus on their usually quiet street.

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