The following article appears in the July 25, 2012 print edition of the Pasadena Star-News
San Gabriel Valley officials vote to support Measure R extension
By Steve Scauzillo, SGVN
For the first time in four years, the county’s $40 billion sales tax measure for new transit projects is getting some love from San Gabriel Valley officials.
But it took the so-called “Fasana Amendment” to convince many.
After opposing the ballot measure in 2008, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments voted 19-4 last week to endorse a new Measure R, which extends the life of the existing half-cent transit sales tax for another 30 years and promises to jump-start 12 rail and subway projects by borrowing against future Measure R tax revenues.
The extension doesn’t raise the tax rate but continues it until 2069. Having an extended revenue stream gives the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, the power to sell bonds and build rail and highway projects sooner.
When the county Board of Supervisors and Metro meet in early August to cast their final votes to place the measure on the November ballot, they will have the blessing of San Gabriel Valley elected officials.
Duarte City Councilman John Fasana deserves the credit for that. Fasana, a member of the Metro board, provided the impetus for the SGVCOG to support Measure R with his amendment that would allow Metro to redirect newly created highway funding to the Gold Line Foothill Extension.
The SGVCOG voted not to support the original measure in 2008 because it said the measure favored projects in the Westside of Los Angeles over Eastside projects.
While similar cries of unfairness and a “Westside agenda” were voiced this time around, others said it’s time the San Gabriel Valley get on the bandwagon. The four-year-old measure was supported by San Gabriel Valley voters and has been supplying money to local transit projects, including the first phase of the Gold Line Foothill Extension, several railroad underpasses and improvements to the 5 Freeway in Santa Fe Springs. The extended tax would fund the Gold Line Eastside extension either along the 60 Freeway to Rosemead or down Washington Boulevard to Whittier.
“As a COG, we didn’t endorse it, but the voters did. To date we have been a primary benefactor of dollars,” explained Alhambra Mayor Barbara Messina, the COG’s president.
The SGVCOG’s blessing came after months of heated debate and some foothill members say, at the expense of the Gold Line Foothill’s next phase to Claremont, which was left out of the new Measure R’s expenditure plan. By not including any funding, the second half of the line through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona and Claremont and possibly Montclair in San Bernardino County is in jeopardy.
Mostly foothill SGVCOG members were angry over what they said was a purposeful omission by Metro. Some said it was political payback for opposing the original measure in 2008.
“The Gold Line Foothill Extension project is politically being cut out,” said Claremont Councilman Sam Pedroza, SGVCOG Transportation Committee member and board member of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. Claremont, South Pasadena, Bradbury and San Dimas voted no.
Metro’s financial officers predict the extended financing would add an additional $3.7 billion. Of that, the San Gabriel Valley is expected to receive $823 million in extra highway funds not earmarked for any project, said Fasana.
Fasana’s amendment, approved along with SGVCOG’s endorsement, would change wording in the original law that says money transfers from highway to rail projects can only happen once every 10 years and only starting in 2019. The “Fasana Amendment” would allow Metro to make such fund transfers as soon as possible and as often as needed.
Fasana and the SGVCOG would recommend giving Alameda Corridor East or ACE about $200 million of that pie to complete railroad underpasses, and the Gold Line Foothill would get $623 million.
He pointed out that this would not be touching money earmarked for Los Angeles or related Westside projects, such as a new subway to Santa Monica.
“We are not talking about funds to come off the subway or the Expo Line or some other projects in play,” Fasana said.
Still, some are not convinced the Gold Line Foothill would end up with the cash – about $623 million of the $800 million it needs to finish the line to Claremont.
“While $600 million would take you a long way … it is not a guarantee. There are a lot of hoops you’d have to go through to obtain these funds,” said Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.
The authority has challenged the new Measure R expenditure plan on legal grounds. A document written by its attorney, Stan Barankiewicz, says the plan doesn’t comply with the original law passed by voters because it doesn’t fully fund the Gold Line from Pasadena to Claremont as outlined in the original ballot measure. Instead, it only moved $735 million instead of the $1.62 billion – about $800 million short of completing the project outlined in the ballot.
The authority also states that the Metro plan does not prioritize projects, meaning it can fund any project it wants over another in any order it wants. Last, it funds three new projects – including the 405 Freeway extension and the Green Line light-rail extension to LAX – over projects listed in the original ballot measure.
“Accordingly, the Expenditure Plan violates the Legislature’s intent set forth in the statute,” Barankiewicz wrote.
Since the new Measure R also requires legislative approval, a legal challenge could interfere with Assembly Bill 1446, which enacts the ballot measure along with the county and Metro board votes. Some San Gabriel Valley legislators have vowed to vote “no” on the bill if Gold Line Foothill funding is not included.
In a way, the Fasana amendment could mollify the concerns of local legislators and convince local voters to support the Measure R extension.
“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton, a COG member who voted with the majority for the endorsement with the Fasana Amendment.
Perhaps more importantly, the amendment is gaining support on the L.A.-leaning Metro board, which has the power to veto the extra funding. Fasana said he’s counted 11 votes of a 13-member board in favor of his amendment and he hopes it will be approved as part of the measure’s wording at Metro’s meeting in August.
“(L.A.) Mayor Villaraigosa liked the idea. He thought it made sense,” Fasana told the SGVCOG board.
626-962-8811 ext. 2237