Last month Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director of LA's Local Initiatives Support Corporation, sat down with Sen. Ben Allen, Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane, and public finance expert Larry Kosmont for a discussion about affordable housing and public transit. The result is podcast #13 in LISC’s Changemakers LA podcast series: "What Move LA is Doing Around Transit Districts"!
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk began by asking the question that many people are asking: Why is it that with so many transportation options now available in Los Angeles—following voter approval of Measures R in 2008 and M in 2016, which are now providing $120 billion (mostly for transit) over 40 years—that traffic is getting worse and bus ridership is declining?
The answer? It's not just a transportation problem, it is a housing affordability problem.
"There's definitely a housing-transportation nexus here," Sen. Ben Allenbegan. "So many people can't afford to live near where they work that as housing costs increase they have to move further and further away. We need more housing near job centers and more transit to get people to jobs."
Denny Zane agreed, noting "It's important to appreciate that housing has a dramatic impact on ridership, and the people who ride transit most often are from low-income households, which are being forced out of Los Angeles as high-income households move in—many of them to work in LA's expanding tech industry—causing rents and housing prices to climb."
Larry Kosmont pointed out that local governments could step up and help solve the need for more affordable housing if they had a way to capture the value of the public investment LA County is making in transit—adding that if government doesn’t capture the value, the private sector will by building luxury condos and high-rent apartment buildings.
Value capture is what community redevelopment agencies used to do, but Governor Brown ended redevelopment to deal with the state’s budget crisis in 2011, and recreating it has recently been the subject of much discussion in the state Capitol.
Sen. Ben Allen’s SB 961—which Move LA sponsored and Governor Brown signed last year—would resurrect a type of redevelopment by allowing cities to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts near high-frequency bus and rail corridors and in the half-mile radius around stations.
These districts could enable cities to bond against the future tax increment and begin improving these neighborhoods and turning them into mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities. SB 961 requires that 40% of the funds be used for affordable housing for low- and very-low income people as well as people who are homeless—redevelopment in contrast required only 20% of for housing that is affordable.
"There are tools, like SB 961, to do this but they need to be strengthened," Larry concluded. "What is missing is motivation for government agencies to cooperate by committing a share of their property tax increases to reinvestment in these districts."
Denny said the intent of SB 961 is to create an important new funding source for community building in mixed-use mixed-income neighborhoods along underutilized boulevards. LA County has a significant number of these commercial corridors that are served by high frequency bus and rail transit—including Vermont, Venice, Valley and Vanowen, said Denny, adding "and that's only the boulevards that start with a V."
Sen. Allen, Denny, Larry and Tunua talked at greater length about the importance of value capture and how it can be used to invest in community development and increase transit ridership—we urge you to listen to the whole conversation here: Podcast #13: "What Move LA is Doing Around Transit Districts." This podcast series is part of an even larger conversation about how to make LA neighborhoods better in a time of growing prosperity and growing inequity in LA, and it's a celebration of LISC's 30 years in LA. Thank you Tunua Thrash-Ntuk!
The Planning Report recently asked Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane an important question: What would SB 50, a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to upzone much of the land in transit-rich and jobs-rich neighborhoods--including those currently dedicated to single-family housing--do to voter support for transit expansion measures such as Measures M and R?
A City of LA Planning Department report estimates that about 43% of developable land in the city could be affected by SB 50. And the bill—which was held in the Legislature this session but will reappear next year—has definitely had an impact on discussions about a planned bus rapid transit project in the San Fernando Valley. Click here to read Denny's assessment of supply-side answers to the state's housing crisis in the new issue of the Planning Report!
We were very pleased this summer to be identified as a major player, in the Eno Center for Transportation's laudatory account of the 2016 Measure M campaign—along with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Metro. That win—with 71.15% of the vote—on a measure now providing $120 billion (mostly for transit) in LA County on a ballot that included three other successful funding measures (for community colleges, parks and homeless housing and services) was remarkable. Voters suddenly seemed very willing to tax themselves to help solve the county's real needs.
The non-profit Eno Center is a progressive transportation think tank in Washington D.C. that has been publishing analyses of transportation ballot measures in the recognition that new transportation funding sources are necessary. The reason? Federal gas tax revenues, long the biggest source of transportation funding, have been declining as the fuel efficiency of cars increases. The Eno Center sees LA County's ballot measures as an example for other counties.
The Eno report, a joint effort with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and written by UCLA Professor Michael Manville, noted that “Measure M is a classic example of coalition politics. Much of the work surrounding the measure involved building an alliance to support it. This took place long before voters even saw the proposal . . . Measure M’s success began with a coalition representing almost every geographic area and large stakeholder.”
And, the Eno Center noted, not only did Move LA play the role of coalition-convener in the 2016 campaign but had done the same in 2008 when Measure R won with just 66.7% of the vote, a victory no less remarkable than Measure M, however, as the Great Recession was crashing down all around us. (Yes, that's Move LA's Executive Director Denny Zane to the right in both R and M photos above.)Read more
Since last month at the Metro Board meeting on its budget, where we testified that Metro needs to budget for expanding bus service, several news outlets have called Move LA to ask us why we believe bus transit ridership continues to fall in Los Angeles County.
Our answer: since Metro’s primary ridership base is the low-income members of our community, declining bus ridership and rising homelessness have the same fundamental cause – the loss of a large share of Los Angeles’ County’s affordable housing stock, not to bulldozers, but to rent increases and eviction notices.
Increasingly, very-low and low income people and families are no longer able to afford to live here. Many leave the county for more affordable communities to our east or communities in other states; some end up on the streets among the growing ranks of our homeless population.
In any case a large share of Metro’s very-low and low income transit rider base have left and are no longer riding transit.
We began to unearth this trend last year when we looked at demographic data we asked for and received from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).
Since 2005, Los Angeles County has experienced two dominant trends: a dramatic increase in households with six-figure incomes and a concurrent and dramatic loss in very-low and low income households.
Move LA has been making the case for unlimited and universal student transit passes for almost five years now because we believe that free and discounted transit pass program will increase declining transit ridership in LA County and improve access to economic and educational opportunities while at the same time reduce the driving, traffic, GHG emissions, the need for students to own a care and the cost of getting an education.
This belief is based on good, analytic data showing that access to transit for students can have a whole range of other benefits:
- A 2012 study by Safe Routes to School National Partnership estimated that 20-30% of morning traffic could be generated by parents driving their children to school;
- A 2015 study by Harvard University found access to transportation is the single biggest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and avoiding homelessness;
- A 2016 University of Minnesota study found that their student transit pass program resulted in lower estimated annual emissions of 93% for nitrogen oxide, 89% for particulate matter, and 59% for CO2, compared to the previous yellow bus program. In addition, annual reductions were estimated at 18,304 trips and 158,400 vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) from replacing yellow buses and 2,038,784 VMT from personal vehicles.
- Alameda County's pilot program, which has been running since 2015, is providing bus and BART transit passes to high school students; 14% of students reported missing fewer days of school than they did during the prior year and involvement in non-school-based afterschool activities and after-school jobs increased dramatically (by 77% and 238% respectively) for student participants.
- A study by the LA County Department of Public Health found that securing free transit passes for all students from preschool to college could lead to: 1) families saving $750,000 per year in fines for fare evasion and $2.5 million per year on student transit passes, 2) students receiving more instructional time, 3) schools receiving an additional $125,000 each year for every 1% decrease in unexcused absences, and 4) fewer vehicle emissions resulting in healthier families and communities.
- And studies conducted by Dr. Donald Shoup (2001) on student transit pass programs show that these programs reduce the cost of attending college by up to $2,000 and Dr. Nuworsoo (2004) show that deep discount group pass programs are useful instruments for increasing transit revenue and ridership.
A number of major cities like Paris, Chicago, and Seattle are currently researching or expanding their transit pass programs for students; our partners at Investing in Place wrote a great article about those programs as well as the current programs being offered in Los Angeles County.
Big Announcements Last Week On Student Passes
Last week, Los Angeles took a major step in providing unlimited and universal student transit passes to students in the LA Unified School District and the LA Community College District. In partnership with SLATE-Z and the LA Promise Fund, LA Metro began distribution of U-Pass TAP stickers to the rising Junior class at Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles. These stickers go directly on students' IDs and can be used on all Metro buses and trains as well as 10 other municipal bus systems. This is the first-of-its-kind program where high school students will receive passes at a group rate. This pilot program is being funded by a grant from the 11th Hour Project after our organizations won a Just Transit grant.
We will be tracking the outcomes of this program with the goal of sharing the results with the LAUSD and Metro Boards to make the case that expanding this program to more high school students can improve school attendance, increase involvement in extracurricular activities, and decrease vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution.
Also happening this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian, and LACCD Board President Mike Fong announced that LADOT's DASH Bus Service would be FREE for LAUSD and LACCD students with a Metro student discount TAP card. This is funded through an existing stream of $$ coming from Caltrans HQ for low carbon transit programs, a program that Move LA advocated to fund through California's cap-and-trade auction proceeds.
Move LA was quoted in both Streetsblog LA and Curbed LA on this exciting development but what piqued our interest the most was when Mayor Eric Garcetti speculated that "maybe Metro will be next.” We hope that we will soon see Metro take similar action, laying the foundation for transit ridership resurgence which we believe should be the 29th project in Metro’s plan for the 2028 Olympics. In fact, all municipal and county transit operators should leverage these existing state funds to subsidize student transit passes as an effective policy for ridership and transit access, and we will continue to encourage State and local leaders to invest in these types of programs.
The coming decade looms large for anyone who has been at the frontlines of fighting climate change and air pollution. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded we have just 12 years to reduce global emissions or the consequences could be irreversible.
Our politicians have shown the leadership that can help get us there: Governor Jerry Brown set a goal of deploying 5 million ZEVs by 2030; Governor Gavin Newsom wants to dump diesel by 2030; LA Mayor Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia set a goal of zero emissions at the ports by 2035. And by 2031 the South Coast Air District must meet federal standards for air quality or face certain penalties and loss of funding.
All of this will take major public investments in incentives and infrastructure—and that’s where voters come in! We can dump diesel, improve air quality, and conquer climate change if we can match the State of California’s investment in clean transportation.
We need to drive clean transportation technologies like zero-emission vehicles to the marketplace faster and at scale—light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles! Simply put, we need to get to economies of scale quickly in order to make ZEVs cheaper than their gasoline and diesel counterparts. Then the marketplace itself can take over.
We also need to drive near-zero emission heavy-duty trucks to the marketplace because we must dump diesel now—it’s toxic to our neighbors, especially in the frontline communities near freeways and ports. While zero-emission trucks are the goal, it may take a long time to develop the technology that allows these trucks to travel across the country, and even longer to install charging infrastructure that will take them where they need to go. This is why we believe near-zero heavy-duty trucks are part of the solution.
There is an advantage to near-zero in the short term because we must also capture and use short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which are 100 times more powerful than CO2. They also decay more quickly, but only after the damage is done. Near-zero trucks can be fueled by biomethane, one of the major SCLPs—80% of which is produced by dairies and cattle ranches, landfills and waste-water plants.
Regulating heavy-duty trucks to make them comply with California’s climate goals isn’t an option, because they are regulated by the federal government, not states or localities.
Addressing these concerns requires major investments, and we need to make big progress in a decade. We learned when passing Measures R and M for transit that we can raise serious money at the ballot box to help achieve seemingly impossible goals—these measures together are raising $120 billion over 40 years for transportation, 70% of that for transit.
The State of California is already investing big bucks in the fight against climate change. Now we need to double down on that investment at the local level. And we know how to do this because we have done it before.
So what if we could vote to end climate change? Would you?
Is it Time for Move SoCal?Read more
1) Attain federal clean air standards with full implementation of the Mobile Source Plan of the 2016 AQMP:
Diesel emissions are the most pressing challenge to air quality in Southern California by far. Diesel emissions are a toxic air contaminant, second only to smoking as a cause for cancer. Disadvantaged communities near freeways are especially burdened. The 2016 AQMP relies on incentives to accelerate deployment of zero- and near-zero-emission heavy-duty trucks and equipment at a cost of over $1 billion/year. This scale of effort can only be funded by a regional ballot measure.
2) Address climate change head-on:
California is leading the way in the fight to conquer climate change. Our progress in replacing fossil fuel power with clean renewables has been so great that our #1 priority now should be reducing GHGs from the transportation sector, still the biggest source of GHGs. The economies of scale for manufacturers could yield significantly reduced costs for car buyers around the world—and make a big difference in the effort to conquer climate change. We plan to urge inclusion of very significant funds to accelerate deployment of zero-emission light- and medium-duty vehicles and charging facilities.
3) Modernize and electrify Metrolink, Southern California’s regional commuter rail system:
Modernizing our 530-mile, 5-county regional commuter rail system is a golden opportunity to create high-capacity, high-efficiency, higher-speed, zero-emission electric regional transit linking the region’s core communities. Double-tracking and modernizing the system and providing the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (which operates Metrolink) with funding for reliable, frequent and more affordable service will build ridership and address climate change head on.
4) County transportation commission local return program:
We should include significant funds for investments in clean local transit systems and the expansion of active transportation in each of the Air District's 4 counties. The measure would fund each county transportation commission and respect the authority of each to establish their own transit project priorities, specifically referencing each county’s Long Range Transportation Plan.
Move LA proposes placing a regional ballot measure before voters in the South Coast Air District in 2020—which includes nearly all of 4 counties—to fund the transformation of our existing regional Metrolink commuter rail system into a high-velocity regional transit system.
It will require major investments to electrify the 530-mile Metrolink system, and to double-track—even triple-track—wherever needed to significantly enhance service and enable all-day express service on one or more lines, and to connect to regional airports like Ontario Airport.
To accomplish this we propose a regional half-cent sales tax measure, which can also fund implementation of the 2016 Air Quality Management Plan, ensuring we finally meet federal clean air standards and achieve major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
To succeed Move LA needs to identify and come together with regional partners to create a new regional coalition, which we hope to call Move SoCal—if our partners agree!
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Think back to 2006. Worsening traffic congestion in LA County was on everyone's mind, and all over the media.
In response, a local coalition convened by Move LA worked to convince LA Metro and LA Mayor Villaraigosa to give voters an opportunity to invest in a dramatic enhancement of the county's transit systems, a ballot measure that won approval with 67.9% of the vote. LA Metro under Mayor Garcetti's leadership returned to the ballot in November 2016 with Measure M, which also extended Measure R. Voters said Yes by 71.1%, providing LA Metro with $120 billion over the next 40 years.
During this same period downtown Los Angeles has undergone a remarkable revival, recreating a real urban core for the region. And the digital and high-tech industries have seen opportunity to expand to LA.
Is LA on a roll?
Maybe. Maybe not.
New industries arrive and create prosperity for some. Yet a housing affordability crisis has ensued and created displacement, uncertainty and homelessness. Many of the people who are working full-time cannot afford to make rent. More than 50,000 people are living on the streets in LA County. Traffic congestion has not ebbed, and transit ridership is way down, despite voter support for solutions.
Is this a Tale of Two Counties?
Transit ridership falls because of fare increases and service cuts: Job losses during the Great Recession combined with fare increases and service cuts lead to an 11% transit ridership decline from 2010-2015.
Transit ridership continues to fall because of rising housing costs: New industries bring new high-income residents. LA County housing costs rise. Gentrification, displacement and an increase in homelessness follow.
Regional and global transportation-related challenges reach the tipping point: Air pollution, climate change and traffic congestion threaten regional health and prosperity.