TPR recently spoke with Mike Bonin, the new councilmember of the City of Los Angeles’ 11th District, representing much of the Westside—Venice, Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades, Westchester. Bonin, a longtime aid to his predecessor Bill Rosendahl, is familiar with his district’s constituents, issues, and landscape. In the following interview, part one of two, Bonin speaks to transportation, to the need for a Measure R successor in Measure R-2, and to congestion challenges plaguing the Westside. Balancing a macro and micro vision of his district and the region’s mobility needs, he holds, is the necessary response to an issue that has no magic solution.
"I view transportation from a very micro and a very macro prism, simultaneously. As the guy who represents, arguably, the most gridlocked section of the region, I get, and I live, and I feel, and I breathe, and I often rage against the micro issues of traffic and transportation. As the guy who chairs the Transportation Committee, sits on the Expo Board, has the airport in his district, and is a member of the Metro Board of Directors, I understand how those micro issues intersect with the big picture. I see the very critical mission we have to create a multi-modal transit system here in Los Angeles."
Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti and Metro’s Art Leahy will advocate a new half-cent sales tax at MOVE LA’s transportation conference to fund rail, highway, and bike lane projects through Measure R-2, a successor transportation sales tax initiative for Los Angeles County. What is your position on the need and promise of Measure R-2?
I think that both the City of Los Angeles and the region are on the verge of creating an entirely new transportation system. We’re on the verge of making the dynamic and revolutionary transition from what has been, for far too many, a single-modal city with people only using automobiles to a truly multi-modal system that will accommodate rail, bus, car, bicycles, and pedestrians.
I think we dramatically jumpstarted that process with Measure R. We can solidify those steps and turn them into a successful leap forward with a Measure R2. It gives us an opportunity to accelerate some of the projects that are already in the pipeline and to add the ones that complete LA’s transit revolution.
Two years ago, with you in attendance, The Planning Report interviewed your predecessor in Council District 11, Bill Rosendahl. He stated, “We are right now in the worst of times on the Westside when it comes to gridlock.” Is gridlock also your number one priority? What resources and opportunities are available to relieve this congestion?
I view transportation from a very micro and a very macro prism, simultaneously. As the guy who represents, arguably, the most gridlocked section of the region, I get, and I live, and I feel, and I breathe, and I often rage against the micro issues of traffic and transportation.
As the guy who chairs the Transportation Committee, sits on the Expo Board, has the airport in his district, and is a member of the Metro Board of Directors, I understand how those micro issues intersect with the big picture. I see the very critical mission we have to create a multi-modal transit system here in Los Angeles.
We are in the process of building some of the transformative projects on the Westside that are part of that big vision and will have a micro impact. Already, the Expo Line—which is only halfway complete—is exceeding its ridership expectations. On average, more people ride the Expo every day than there are cars on the 10 freeway during rush hour. That, in and of itself, is a major and transformative step.
I think it only works if we integrate that experience with other forms of transportation—bus, bicycle, and ped. We’ve worked very hard on the Expo Board—first Bill, and then I—to make sure that the bike lane parallel with the Expo Line is functional and safe for cyclists. That’s very important. It is absolutely crucial that we make sure there are safe ways to get to the Expo stops on the Westside by bicycle.
We also need to integrate rail with bus. Our three complementary bus systems on the Westside—the Metro system, the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, and the Culver City bus—must all serve and integrate with those Expo stops. We’ve got the bus companies talking with each other and with the community now about what the different ridership needs will be to make sure the Expo Line works. That’s a big element of what will begin to impact the Westside.
Smaller things that will impact gridlock include the bike corrals and parklets that we are doing in various parts of the city and throughout my district. They will make it easier for someone, say, in Venice to bike from their home, go grab some dinner or a cup of coffee, and hang out on Abbot Kinney.
We’re also looking at some of the micro fixes that actually make a difference for folks. The mayor and I got an email right after Thanksgiving from a constituent in Brentwood who offered a suggestion about how to make traffic flow just a little bit better near what is almost permanent Carmageddon—at Sunset and the 405. The constituent said, “Why don’t you allow a right-on-red from Church Lane onto Sunset?” We looked at that. A few years ago, the engineers didn’t think they could make it work. We made them drill down, and they made it work. It hasn’t made Sunset and the 405 gridlock-free, but it’s made that particular intersection a little bit better. We’re going to do big things and we’re going to do small things. Between the two of them, we’re going to have an impact.
The crucial thing I’d like to remind people about is that there is no magic wand and no silver bullet. There is nothing that will suddenly return us to the traffic patterns of the 1950s. But an incremental change in use of our freeways, our streets, how people use automobiles, and whether they use a bus, train, or bicycle, does make a profound difference. There’s not a direct correlation between a number of cars and the amount of traffic. You can see very easily on a Jewish holiday or school holiday the difference in Los Angeles’ traffic patterns. That’s the kind of difference that we need to be able to make mass transit and active transportation, which can help alter gridlock.
With a federal full-funding agreement for Segment 1 of the Wilshire Subway about to be signed this spring, are you now also a Metro champion of federal full-funding agreements both for the build-out of Segment 2 (to Century City) and Segment 3 (to the VA in Westwood)?
Yes, absolutely. I’m very proud of the work that Zev Yaroslavsky has done, and I hope to follow in his footsteps by receiving the baton from him and championing that project on Metro. I think it’s vitally important. I just read a book that someone gave me called Railtown—a history of Metro and our fits-and-starts progress toward a multi-modal transportation system in Los Angeles. One thing is abundantly clear, as told in that book and through Los Angeles’ transportation history: If there’s one place in Los Angeles where it has always made sense to build heavy rail, it is the Wilshire Corridor. In so many places, density and growth occurs once we’ve built light rail. This is a place where we have the density and the height and desperately need the rail.
I would say that there are three big and essential mass transit fixes on the Westside that are critical and necessary. The Wilshire subway is one of them. The connection to the airport is another. The third is something that I hope to see funded in Measure R2: A north-south line from LAX up through the Sepulveda pass and into the Valley. Nothing can be a bigger game changer for Westside traffic than a north-south mass transit system. Right now, the 405 is so congested that it bleeds to Sepulveda and Lincoln. Lincoln and Sepulveda are so congested that it bleeds to Overland and Centinela. Centinela and Overland are so congested that it bleeds to Walgrove and Motor. It’s a gridlock domino effect.
Those are the three projects that I think are most important for the Westside. I’m championing the connection to the airport with the greatest urgency right now. We have a window now and in the next year to get that done. I’d love to see us make a decision on how to do that while Zev is still on the Metro Board. Then, he can hand me the Wilshire baton at the end of the year.
Having now served nine months as an appointee of Mayor Garcetti to the Metro Board, how would you characterize the current geographical competition for scarce transportation infrastructure dollars, essential to building out a countywide 21st Century transportation system? What are the inherent political challenges that must be overcome to gain consensus and to advance your three Westside priorities?
It’s always a challenge to allocate scarce resources. That’s why it’s crucial that we have a robust and well-formulated Measure R-2—it’s absolutely essential for us to grow the size of the pie so that everybody can have a piece of it. The test of whether we’re going to be successful in growing transportation properly throughout the region is whether that ballot measure is shaped properly. There are things that I am extremely eager to see in the ballot measure to help the Westside. Then there are things I’m interested in seeing that help everybody. I’m eager to see a greater percentage of funds allocated toward active transportation—for bicycle amenities and changes that make life easier for pedestrians, the one form of transportation that almost everyone in Los Angeles County uses at some point in the day. That’s regional.
Funding for highways is something I support in R-2, even though it is not necessarily a priority, personally, or for my part of town. But my region is not the entire region. I’m very interested in making sure that we have a part of the pie set aside for highways because you want to be able to address the concerns of every region of the county. Highways are very important for the South Bay and for other parts of the county.
I would also be happy to fight for more resources toward clean freight lines and measures such as that. It’s very important for me to be an advocate not just for my part of town but also for the region. We all connect together. With the Regional Connector, we’re literally going to be connected together. Someone from Santa Monica will be able to go directly to Pasadena. We’re building a system of connection and interdependence, and I hope that will help us balance our priorities in terms of spending.
Lastly, regarding Metro, the proposed sales tax measure (R-2), is unlikely to fund every community wish list. There are scarce resources. With federal and state monies dried up, and with former Assemblymember Richard Katz’s Countywide Congestion Management Program and fee towards new development currently in limbo, stalled by some developers and without a champion, from what sources will needed funding come to relieve neighborhood and arterial congestion?
I’m very intrigued by Richard’s idea, and I like the concept. I would actually like to talk to him more about it and see if that’s another baton I can pick up and help carry. Clearly we’re going to be challenged as long as the federal government is stuck in gridlock. It will probably be a few more years until the state starts opening up the spigots again. I would be very supportive of measures to reduce the threshold statewide for revenue enhancing measures from two thirds to 55 percent, or 50 percent plus one. I think that would be very helpful.
We’ve also got to be very smart about how we go about leveraging our relationship with the federal government and the Department of Transportation. The progress we’ve seen on the Wilshire subway and the Regional Connector is good. In large part, I think that progress has to do with the effectiveness of our congressional delegation and the relationships that some of our elected leadership here have with leaders in Washington, particularly Mayor Garcetti’s relationship with President Obama and half the cabinet, including Secretary Fox.
Progress is not going to take just legislation and expenditure bills. A lot of it is going to be relational. That will be key in determining how the federal government allocates discretionary monies like that.