Culver City Edition Lead Story Lynwood Press West Edition

Black voters divided on transit tax on Nov. 8 ballot

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Measure M is dividing L.A.’s black communities.

While some faith leaders are supporting the county infrastructure plan along with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, some civil rights organizations and activists are firmly against the plan, even going so far as to call it racist.

The half-cent sales tax proposed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority ((MTA) will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot with a purpose of raising money to fund transportation projects throughout the county for the next 50 years.

Faith leaders supporting the measure include Bishop Charles Blake Sr. of West Angeles Church of God in Christ, Pastor Edgar Boyd of First A.M.E Church and Apostle Beverly “Bam” Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International Church.

“Measure M will create 465,000 jobs and we could use that in our communities,” Crawford said. “Measure M will immediately fill potholes and repave our streets, and that got my attention. A lot of our people are dependent on transit to get to church, get to choir services, get to rehearsal. I urge everyone to vote yes on Measure M.”

Garcetti said the measure is not just about dollars.

“Right now, there is an 82-year-old veteran who needs his medicine, but doesn’t have access to where he needs to go. That will change through Measure M,” he said. “There is a child who has never been to the beach, but Measure M will connect her to the Expo Line, wherever she lives in L.A. County, so she can feel the sand between her toes.

“The traffic we sit in every day is L.A. County’s form of purgatory. It’s time spent in limbo, time spent away from our families and friends, time that is wasted. Measure M is about breaking us free from this gridlock and giving us our time back,” Garcetti said.

Ridley-Thomas agreed.

“It is our view that transportation makes a difference,” he said. “It is in no small measure about jobs, jobs and more jobs. There is no single public investment that has the potential to create this many jobs. Vote, vote, vote — go tell it on the mountain. M is for mountain!”

It’s a mountain some civil rights leaders do not want to climb.  Opponents of the measure include Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition; Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the Bus Riders Union; and Ron Hasson, the area representative of all NAACP branches in Southern California. All are co-signers of the ballot arguments against Measure M that appears in the county voters guide.

Other black organizations and leaders opposed to Measure M include prominent activists/organizers Melina Abdullah and Greg Akili, the Black Community Clergy Labor Alliance, retired Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, and citizen activist groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment-Los Angeles.

The Bus Riders Union in 1996 forced the MTA Board of Directors to improve bus service and freeze fares after proving the authority was spending money on transit service in a racially discriminatory way. They, along with other members of the coalition against Measure M, call it a “forever tax.”

Jackie Ryan, past president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association, said, “The northern extension of the Crenshaw Line through West Hollywood is the textbook definition of environmental racism.

“To have the train run all underground north of the 10 Freeway in Miracle Mile and West Hollywood, while having the same 225-ton trains barreling down the middle of the street on Crenshaw in South L.A. in front of our schools is unconscionable,” Ryan said.

“We’ve been fighting for years just to get 11 blocks in Park Mesa Heights put underground for the safety of our children and to preserve the last black business corridor in Southern California,” Ryan added. “Each time the MTA said they don’t have the money, yet here they propose a forever tax that will generate over $120 billion in just the first 40 years and still they say they don’t have the money.

“The disrespect and disregard is an affront to the black community. It is racist, it is wrong, and we’re going to defeat Measure M.”

Farrell said, “I have traditionally supported tax increases for public infrastructure and understand the importance of investing in public transit, but I cannot in good conscious support the MTA’s Measure M. “There is a deficit of accountability and absolutely no return for improvements in the South Los Angeles or black community. There’s simply nothing in it for us, so we should firmly reject it,” Farrell added.

The “yes” side said increasing the current sales tax rate will modernize the county’s aging transportation system, and that it will help drivers gain back 15 percent, of the 622 million hours they collectively spend stuck in traffic each year, costing commuters more than $13 billion.

The numbers don’t sway the “No on M” crowd.

Retired South L.A. engineer Clint Simmons said: “The only actual South L.A. project for the next 50 years in Measure M is actually a bus lane on Vermont that would reduce travel to one lane between the 10 Freeway and Gage {Avenue], eliminate all street parking for those small businesses, exacerbate a traffic nightmare and their traffic engineers admit it is completely not feasible.

“It’s a sham project that can’t ever and won’t ever get built, so apparently it’s only even being mentioned by the MTA because it lets them claim they’re doing something for us. But they’re not and we’re smarter than that,” Simmons said.

County residents will essentially choose between keeping more money in their pockets with a “no” vote or getting more access to public transportation with a “yes” vote on Measure M. Voters will decide Nov. 8 which side of the great divide prevails.