Even if the outcome of nearly every race in California from president on down is certain, your vote still matters when it comes to ballot measures, most of which can go either way: death penalty, three-strikes law, competing soak-the-rich tax-increase schemes and L.A. County Measure J, which more than any other actually has a direct impact on the quality of all our lives.
My own view is that extending the one-half percent sales tax through 2069 just four years after we agreed to pay the Measure R transit tax for 30 years without knowing they would burn our money in just 10 years by borrowing against future revenue is premature and unnecessary.
Yet a lot of people I respect, like Ara Najarian — a Glendale city councilman and member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority — tell me I'm dead wrong.
“I was on the ballot pamphlet as an opponent of Measure R,” Najarian told me last week. “But in the last three years I've seen how that money is being put to good use, scrutinized. There's no graft, no payoffs, no bribery.
“What I've seen at the board level, I've seen a lot of rancor, and a lot of argument and discussion. Everyone is watching their neighbors' projects to make sure that no one takes advantage of the funding they've been allocated. That's what the fights are about.”
Say it ain't so, amigo, I said, putting Najarian on the defensive on his beliefs as a moderate Republican in smaller government and lower taxes.
“I think Measure J does a lot of good things. It does help accelerate some of the expensive transit projects. It does give the cities some local return that we can count on and use for our own transit system. It does give our region, the Arroyo-Verdugo region, some equalization money because we don't have an expensive transit line.
“We can use the money for whatever we want, for sound walls, for roads, for transit, for some crossing-safety issues and some freeway-improvement issues.
“It's good for the county as a whole. But don't get me wrong. I think we should extend the tax and defend it to make sure we get what we want that serves our needs.”
Wait a minute, Ara, you're the hero of opponents to the 710 Freeway tunnel extension, and that's still a high-priority MTA project. How can you support this?
“It gives the MTA the opportunity to pull money away from the 710 tunnel and use it for public transit, to move that money for the Gold Line in particular, maybe even to extend it west to Glendale.”
Najarian said he took his concerns about dropping the 710 tunnel project and going forward with a rapid bus connecting the Gold Line in Pasadena with the Orange Line busway in North Hollywood to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who controls a near majority of MTA board votes.
“He said he was 100% on board with that,” Najarian said.
Not quite satisfied, I turned to another sensible moderate Republican, John Shaffer, who only got involved in transit policy back in July when the MTA brain trust pushed a plan to destroy the quality of life in his affluent West Pasadena community by extending the 710 Freeway through the neighborhood by tunnel or even at grade level.
He and his neighbors organized their community, reached out to other Arroyo Seco communities in South Pasadena and the East Side of L.A., got support from their local government officials and backed the MTA down to the point most alternatives were scrapped and the only route now under consideration is a tunnel to the freeway stub at the 210 Freeway in Pasadena.
“Frankly, they could take all the projects they are studying in this region and build them all with the money for the tunnel and still have a lot left over for other transit projects,” Shaffer, an attorney with offices in Century City, said.
“It's hard to know what Metro's current objectives are because they keep changing. They have never had the political will to push transit in a way that makes us less car-oriented. We need to be much more transit-dependent than we are.
“Sometimes choices are not easy. I will go into the polling booth not knowing for sure how I will vote on Measure J.”
Both Najarian and Shaffer are skeptical about Measure J getting the two-thirds vote it needs to pass (Measure R just barely passed with 68% of the vote).
They got me thinking about what it would take this time, since I agree we desperately need a transit system, not more ineptitude and corruption that have dogged the MTA in the past.
Villaraigosa and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky are the leading advocates for Measure J, so let's see them make a public commitment to stop the nonsense of expanding the 710 Freeway from the ports to Pasadena to benefit trucking companies.
They still have a little time, so let's see them back the stalled project to move more container cargo by rail.
And let's see them make a commitment to lower-cost solutions that provide the connectivity and frequency of service that would give us what we want and need: a real public transit system.
RON KAYE can be reached at email@example.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.