LACBC’s forgetful Measure R narrative

By Alex Thompson

LACBC recently crowed that the 10% of Measure R (local return) funds set aside for cyclists & pedestrians became available.  As LACBC puts it, the “collaborative effort between LACBC, LA Streetsblog (Damien Newton), and the Green LA Coalition”
led to the liberation of $3.27 million in funds for the next fiscal year for cycling and pedestrian projects.

However, anyone who was paying attention knows that those funds would have been $1.95 million, not $3.27 million, if it weren’t for the efforts and scrutiny of one Bikeside board member – Stephen M Box.

When the “10% for bikes and peds” motion came before LA City Council Transportation Committee it was Stephen Box that noted that LADOT had calculated 10% incorrectly, first in City Watch and then in public comment:

The 10% commitment had advocates celebrating but a check of the math revealed a small $7.3 million problem, the LADOT had calculated the 10% on net funds yielding $10.8 million over the next 5 years instead of on gross which would yield $18.1 million.

LADOT used the net return, instead of the gross return, reducing the 10% commitment.  Box mentioned this to the committee, and the Chief Legislative Analyst [CLA] (who some say is more powerful than the councilmembers themselves) agreed:

as I stood to leave, the City’s Legislative Analyst (CLA) said “You’re right.” I waited but that was it. I asked “So then you’ll fix it?” It was that simple. “Yes.”  Box’s comment led to an increase of 68% in funding ( $18.1 / $10.8 = 1.68 ) from the 10% motion, which amounts to $1.32 million this year, and $7.3 million over 5 years.

It’s all available online – check out the November 18th, 2009 meeting of the Transportation Committee meeting (99 Mb).  Stephen’s comment, and followup from staff, begin at 56:40.

LACBC – be honest with your narrative.  You attribute the success to the efforts of three organizations, but 40% of the money ( [18.1 -10.8] / 18.1 ) can be attributed to Box’s public comment, his City Watch article, and the CLA.  Congratulations to Stephen Box and the CLA for freeing up $1.32 million in additional funds for cyclists and pedestrians for this (fiscal) year, and congratulations to the three org coalition (if indeed LACBC’s narrative is accurate on that point) for the other $1.95 million.

(Edit – some may have trouble following the ball here.  The $18.1 mil figure is for 5 years.  It would have been $10.8 mil but for Box’s efforts.  That’s 5 years.  For this fiscal year, the amounts are $3.27 mil and $1.95.  The “difference due to Box” is $7.3 mil over 5 years or $1.32 mil this year.)

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5 Responses to “LACBC’s forgetful Measure R narrative”

  1. Kudos to Stephen Box and to the LACBC (and to Green LA Transpo Work Group, Streetsblog, BikinginLA and others) for getting this money to bikes and peds. This was definitely a multi-pronged effort, and the LACBC should acknowledge Stephen’s role in this. Stephen’s analysis was what alerted folks to the city’s deceptive math – which resulted in millions more for bike/ped.

    One other cloudy thing on this is what “net” vs. “gross” means in this context. The city isn’t selling widgets, they’re collecting sales tax, so there isn’t really a gross or a net in any conventional sales sense. It’s tax revenue – it’s all “gross.”

    What the city did in its initial take on this is to skim money of the top of its Measure R local return to pay for some expensive projects – including things like the city’s cost share for the Expo Rail Line construction and some other projects. So, in the initial Measure R funding proposal, the called the money left over after their skimming “net”. It’s not really “gross” v “net” – but more like “bikes aren’t a priority and will only get a chunk after we’ve funded the important stuff.” Stephen correctly spotted this and got that fuzzy accounting thrown out. To the extent that we repeat the city’s oddball use of gross/net, I think we reinforce their inappropriate relegating of bike/ped to second class status.

    What worries me for future years – and in the light of 30/10 priorities – is that there a lot of big projects that the mayor wants to go full-steam-ahead on… and to commit local return funding for… so we need to keep on the 10% bike/ped each year and make sure it doesn’t get squeezed by other urgent priorities.

  2. Your key phrase here is “anyone who was paying attention,” or wanted to pay attention, or whose job it is to pay attention. Thank goodness Stephen is paying attention.

  3. Joe & Cindy – thanks for the comments.

    Joe – yeah I agree that Net isn’t clear, but Gross is to me. Gross is all the funds coming to the city. Net – Net is always a more subjective thing. Like in business, when you calculate the share of gross revenue which is net do you include labor expenses or not? Net is supposed to the Gross subtracting all obligations related to the revenue stream. So at Bikerowave we would subtract the Cost of Goods Sold (the money we paid for the things we sold) from the Gross as part of calculating Net.

    Net is always subjective that way, and that’s why it’s bad practice, IMO, to calculate from Net. That’s what is so fishy about how LADOT calculated it. Why are other transportation projects considered to come out of Gross but cyclist & ped funding comes out of Net? Bull!

    Cyclists need some projects in 30/10.

  4. Thank you, Stephen, for bringing that to light and making sure that cyclists and peds didn’t get swindled.

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