San Fernando Valley taxpayers haunted by ghost trains and invisible buses: Susan Shelley

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In 1897, science fiction author H.G. Wells published a short novel titled, “The Invisible Man.” It was the story of a scientist who invents a method to make a body invisible, tries it on himself, and is never seen again.

He should have been a transit planner in California. Our money is vanishing for projects that are invisible.

Measure M, the proposal that was called “Measure R2” when it was on the drawing board, is the fourth half-cent sales tax increase for transportation since 1980. It was originally planned as a 40-year temporary tax, following on the 2008 Measure R sales tax increase, which was set to expire after 30 years.

But Measure M’s sales tax increase never expires, and the proposal would make the Measure R sales tax permanent as well.

That would mean a total of two cents out of every dollar spent in Los Angeles County, permanently, would fund over $120 billion in spending on what L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) CEO Philip Washington called a transit system “for 100 years down the road.”

It’s hard to see that far down the road, especially if you’ve stopped building roads because state officials have joined a cult that believes everyone should get where they’re going by hitching a ride on the Hale-Bopp comet.

Of course, state officials don’t really think people will ride on a comet. They think people will ride on a bullet train.

It’s just as imaginary. The California High Speed Rail Authority’s latest business plan calls for the initial segment of the bullet train to zip from San Jose to an almond orchard somewhere near Wasco. With a $43.5 billion funding deficit, the project doesn’t even have enough money to get to Bakersfield.

But that hasn’t stopped the high speed rail authority from rolling its dog-and-pony show into the northeast San Fernando Valley to terrify the locals with proposed routes for the Palmdale-to-Burbank segment.

“We must have a range of alternatives to study, according to the law,” said Lisa Marie Alley, the spokeswoman for the rail authority, at a recent public meeting in Sun Valley.

Studying costs money. The rail authority gave $800,000 to the city of Burbank to study a future station in Burbank, and now Los Angeles is demanding a grant, too, because it turns out that the passenger terminal would be in Burbank, but the 1,400-foot train platform where passengers board the invisible train would be in L.A.

This is how government builds things. It takes money out of the pockets of taxpayers, and then it wastes as much of it as possible until taxpayers reach for pitchforks and torches.

In the San Fernando Valley, it’s time for pitchforks.

You may remember that about a year ago, local officials congratulated themselves on getting a bill passed in Sacramento to allow longer buses on the Orange Line, the bus rapid transit line that runs from Chatsworth down to Canoga Park and across the Valley to North Hollywood. Metro runs articulated buses — double-length with an accordion connection — and said it would buy double-articulated buses, a third longer.

So far, they’re invisible.

“No real news on the double-articulated bus front,” a Metro spokesman e-mailed in late July. “Metro staff says that we’re in the early stages of looking at options on the double-articulated buses and talking with prospective manufacturers.”

But what Metro really wants is Measure M, so billions of your dollars can be spent to convert the Orange Line to rail on the identical route.

It’s another example of the bait-and-switch that has been pulled on taxpayers over and over again. After three half-cent sales tax increases for transit since 1980, it can take an hour to catch a north-south bus in the Valley and we have invisible double-articulated buses on the Orange Line. Equally invisible: transportation improvements to serve the campus community at CSUN. For years, Metro wouldn’t even align its bus schedule with the university’s night classes.

The one thing certain to materialize if Measure M passes is lots more transit-oriented development. Under state law, every planned major transit stop on Metro’s maps triggers a streamlined approval process for multi-unit housing and mixed-use projects within one-half mile. No studies of the projects’ impact on traffic speed or parking are required, thanks to the cult belief that people who live, work or shop near transit will do so without a car.

The buildings can go up even if the planned transit stop is still invisible. H.G. Wells would be impressed.



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