AD54 Candidates: Where Do They Stand?

Since first elected in 2010, Holly Mitchell along with her able staff of the community’s effort to underground the rail line on Crenshaw Blvd. Those who attended the Showdown at MTA in June remember that she stood with the community, as we demanded that MTA allow the finalists for the project’s construction contract award to bid the Park Mesa Heights tunnel. (Read Mitchell’s powerful statement). While that day our request literally fell on dead ears we continue our battle. Securing the right to vote was not won overnight and neither will the battle for Crenshaw!

Now that Mitchell has elevated to the State Senate there is a vacancy in the 54th Assembly District office she previously held. The special election to fill it is tomorrow Tuesday, December 3rd. If no candidate secures 50% +1 vote, there will be a runoff on February 4th. So where do the candidates who seek to replace her stand? We submitted a questionnaire to the candidates.

All Four Candidates Respond to Questionnaire

In addition to asking the candidate’s position on the street-level portion of the Crenshaw-LAX line in Park Mesa Heights, two key questions are being asked in the state legislature that will have a big impact on the rail project, transportation, and MTA: a) should voters be asked to reduce the threshold for passing transportation taxes; and b) should the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the state’s environmental protection law, be changed?

The four candidates are Accountant/Former Mayor of Culver City Christopher Armenta (D), Real Estate Broker/Olympic Park Neighborhood Council President John Jake (D), Councilmember Curren Price’s deputy Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), and physician Dr. Morry Waksberg (I).

They were asked to put in writing responses to three questions that had been previously asked at events co-sponsored by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, including the candidate’s forum at St. Bede’s Church, KTYM town hall (link) and KPFK town hall (link to file):

1) What is your position on undergrounding the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line from 48th Street to 59th Street – the eleven (11) blocks that remain at street level on the Crenshaw Boulevard portion?

2) What is your position on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s request for the state legislature to create a ballot measure that would ask citizens to reduce the threshold for passing local taxes for transportation from the current 2/3rds to 55%?

3) What is your position on efforts to change the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) to limit the rights of citizens to legally challenge construction projects that impact the environment, which includes mass transit rail projects?

In summary, each candidate states they support undergrounding the street-level portion from 48th to 59th Street, and they offer varying commitments to help achieve that objective. There are varying responses in the positions on the reduction in the voter threshold issue. Each candidate states they oppose efforts to weaken CEQA.

Please spend a few minutes reading the candidate’s full responses to the questionnaire:

Why this Election is Important: State Legislature’s Role in Crenshaw-LAX & MTA, & the Power of One

While direct control of the design of the Crenshaw-LAX Line is in the hands of the MTA Board of Directors, which includes Crenshaw’s elected representatives Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and now, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (plus his 3 appointees), the California legislature plays a huge role in developing transportation policy that governs how MTA operates. One critical area is funding. Before MTA can place a tax measure on the ballot, it has to be approved by the legislature. In 2008, when Measure R (the tax source funding a sizable portion of MTA’s current construction projects) went to the State Senate in 2008, then-State Senator Jenny Oropeza famously refused to sign off on the bill until about $200 million was added for a Green Line rail extension project to LAX. Such is the power of a lone committed state legislator.

Issue: Reducing the Threshold for Transportation Taxes from 2/3rds to 55%

In 2012, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition helped lead the defeat MTA’s $90 billion transportation tax – Measure J. We did not oppose Measure J because we are anti-transit spending. Rather our opposition was primarily because not a penny was to be directed to any new or existing transportation project in South L.A. or adjacent communities of color – $0 for the Park Mesa Heights tunnel, $0 for Expo Line mitigation, $0 for Blue Line safety improvements – NOTHING, yet MTA wanted to stick us all with the bill.

In joining with a broad coalition of groups disrespected and disregarded by MTA we hoped to send a message that the agency needs to change the way it does business. After MTA lost the measure, despite outspending the opposition over 100 to 1, they have not chosen to heed to our demands. Rather they’ve attempted to “move the goalposts” to make it easier to pass such measures in the future by further ignoring our voices. They want to do this by convincing the state legislature to place a measure on the ballot that would ask voters to reduce the threshold for passing transportation taxes from the current 2/3rds to 55%, possibly as soon as the June 2014 state election.

The NAACP State Conference in a resolution titled “Environmental Justice in Public Transit Projects” that points specifically to MTA’s Park Mesa Heights Crenshaw Blvd street-level portion by example makes this action plain:

“RESOLVED FURTHER, that the California-Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP opposes current efforts in the state legislature to place a measure on the ballot that would reduce the passage threshold for transportation taxes, because it would further marginalize communities of color seeking environmental justice from transportation agencies.”

Previous bills passed the ASSEMBLY BY JUST ONE VOTE, but none have advanced to the governor’s desk. Bills will be proposed in the next session, which starts in January.

Issue: Changing the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”)

In 2011 when it became clear that MTA was not going to change the Crenshaw Line design in Park Mesa Heights from 48th to 59th Street from street-level to underground to preserve and enhance L.A.’s last black business corridor, protect our safety and improve traffic, we made the decision to legally challenge the project for violating both our civil rights and the environmental protection law – CEQA. Your donations helped fund the lawsuit, which is currently on hold in federal district court awaiting a decision from the judge. Challenging construction projects for violating CEQA is a tactic rarely used, and despite the false claims even more rarely abused. Having that right is critical in our system of government. During the discussion of major construction projects it is often the only opportunity to have the debate on a relatively level playing field. Those who seek to ignore community concerns and environmental laws would like to weaken the rights of citizen groups to challenge the projects under CEQA. They proposed such bills in the state legislature last session that failed to make it to governor’s desk, but new legislation is promised in the next session.

Spread the Word & Vote

The Crenshaw Subway Coalition encourages you to spend the few minutes to read the candidates answers in their entirety, forward the link so they too can be informed, and of course, vote on Tuesday, December 3.

These issues will define the Crenshaw corridor, the Assembly District and the state of California for the rest of your lifetime.

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