| Last year, when Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won an underwhelming 55% of the vote in his re-election bid, David Dayen wrote here at Calitics that this was due in part to Villaraigosa's inability to finish what he started:
The enduring image of the Villaraigosa tenure is a crane alongside a half-built skyscraper. He is full of good ideas that never get the follow-through they deserve.
In 2010, Villaraigosa is working to shed that image through one of the most important and innovative proposals California has seen in a long time. It's known as the 30/10 plan and would deliver the long-desired build out of a true mass transit system for Los Angeles by the end of this decade. It is Villaraigosa's moon shot - and is essential to Los Angeles's future viability.
30/10 is a shorthand for building in 10 years the mass transit projects projected to take 30 years to complete that voters approved in the 2008 Measure R sales tax increase. The projects include flagship routes like the Subway to the Sea (at least as far as UCLA), but also important workhorse lines like the regional connector, Crenshaw light rail, extending the Green Line to the LAX terminals, and finishing the Expo Line out to Santa Monica. It also includes routes out to the suburbs, such as the recently-approved Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Gold Line eastside extension toward San Gabriel, and even commuter rail along the West Santa Ana Branch line - all the way into central Orange County.
The key to the 30/10 plan is getting the federal government to loan Metro (LA County's transportation agency) the money to build these projects now, to be repaid using Measure R sales tax revenue over the next 30 years.
Congress is quickly warming to the idea. Senator Barbara Boxer was the first to champion the 30/10 plan, and is being joined by Senator Dianne Feinstein and other federal officials who hail the 30/10 plan as a model for accelerated funding of mass transit.
For all its innovativeness, the 30/10 plan isn't the ideal way to fund mass transit. The federal government built the interstates on the 90/10 plan: the feds paid 90% of the construction cost and the states only 10%. That model ought to be applied to mass transit as well. Until it is, the 30/10 model is the next best thing.
That's because LA, like the rest of the state, has no time to lose in building out a mass transit network that can handle the travel needs of its population. As oil prices rise later this year, part of a long-term trend upward that will lead to a sustained price of $175 a barrel by 2017 according to Deutsche Bank analysts, the LA economy will grind to a halt unless more effective mass transit options are provided.
Even without the price spike, the traffic-choked nature of Southern California means that there would be significant economic benefits to mass transit. Fewer time spent in traffic is more time spent with family or innovating new ideas. Fewer dollars spent on driving leads to a Green Dividend that has already pumped more than $2 billion into the economy of Portland, Oregon. It will also provide for greater housing affordability - the most affordable places to live in SoCal are those nearest mass transit. Villaraigosa isn't just going to put people back to work with 30/10, he's going to ensure that the whole economy can continue to function in a post-cheap oil era.
Notably absent from this is the role of the state government. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been waging a war on mass transit, trying to kill it by slashing operating funds. Already he may have claimed a high-profile victim in the form of Caltrain.
The 30/10 plan will need those state operating funds to be restored, and that ought to include a higher statewide gas tax. If it was good enough for Tom Campbell it's good enough for California. Prices at the pump will rise anyway, but voters won't notice even a 10-cent increase. Trust me on this, I lived in Washington State when the gas tax rose by 10 cents between 2005 and 2007. Nobody noticed.
As we can expect Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner to continue Arnold's war on mass transit (and therefore, a war on California's future), we can hope that Jerry Brown wins back the governor's office and that he will reverse this trend. If Brown loses, however, Antonio Villaraigosa's 30/10 plan would make him an extremely compelling candidate for the governor's office in 2014.
No matter who occupies the governor's office, the 30/10 plan is a model not just in California, but around the world. As Jarrett Walker, an Australian transit blogger, put it this week, the 30/10 plan will make LA "the transit metropolis":
The big-picture Los Angeles talking point is still an inspiring one: The most aggressive mayoral transit advocacy in America is coming from the largest American city that was mostly designed for cars. And because film and television will always tell this city's story to the world, the rise of transit in Los Angeles will be a globally resonant event. Is anyone studying how film and television images of how people travel in Los Angeles are evolving over time? Those things really matter.
For those reasons and more, let's hope Mayor Villaraigosa is successful in his push to make the 30/10 plan real and secure Los Angeles's future prosperity. Villaraigosa's "enduring image" would no longer be the construction crane and the unfinished skyscraper, but the Subway to the Sea and a more sustainable transportation system for the region.
(30/10 map from The Transport Politic)