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Area cities sue over Measure M ballot language

LOS ANGELES — A judge said Aug. 30 she needs more information before ruling on a request by a coalition of seven Los Angeles County cities for an accelerated hearing on a lawsuit filed on behalf of taxpayers concerning the ballot language for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed half-cent county sales tax measure.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel said the new court papers should consolidate legal points and authorities in support of the petition filed last week by the cities of Carson, Commerce, Norwalk, Torrance, Santa Fe Springs, Rancho Palos Verdes and Signal Hill.

She also directed the lawyers for the petitioning cities to make sure the MTA has notice of the new hearing date, now set for Sept. 6.

Strobel questioned why the petitioners waited so long to file their case when they knew the ballot language as of Aug. 16. Lawyer G. Ross Trindle, on behalf of the petitioning cities, said it took time for the communities involved to hold meetings and vote on whether to participate.

The petition alleges that the ballot label for Measure M is misleading and does not include the actual 1 percent total rate of the tax to be imposed.

Lawyers for the petitioners arrived too late to Strobel’s courtroom for a hearing Aug. 29, so the hearing was moved to the next day.

The petitioners also say the ballot label for Measure M does not state that the proposed tax would be permanent.

“The public deserves, and the law requires, a transparent, accurate description of tax Measure M, including spending priorities,” Trindle said in the original court papers.

“At a minimum, state law requires the ballot label to disclose how much money Measure M will cost taxpayers every year and it does not do that. The public will not receive this essential information from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s current title and description of Measure M, which is critical for taxpayers to cast an informed vote.”

Measure M “does not meet the simple test of fairness and equity,” Carson Mayor Albert Robles said. “But you wouldn’t know that from its current description. If Measure M passes, taxpayers in about 50 communities, representing at least 2 million residents, will be paying for Measure M forever, but won’t see any traffic relief on their freeways and roads for decades down the line.”

Measure M opponents say the ballot measure leads voters to believe that there will be an equal distribution of projects. In reality, projects in the western and northern portions of the county will take priority, while southern Los Angeles County regions will not see any benefits until 2039-40, the petitioners say.

Yusef Robb, of the campaign on behalf of Measure M, called the lawsuit “a political stunt that has nothing to do with the law or reality.”

“Measure M will build regional traffic-reduction projects across L.A. County, from Claremont to Torrance to Santa Fe Springs and everywhere in between, and will direct funds to each of L.A. County’s 88 cities for their own local projects,” Robb said.

“Measure M was publicly debated and put on the ballot by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in clear recognition of its countywide traffic-reduction benefits,” Robb added.