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Vision-less L.A. City Budget Committee Turns Its Back On Vision Zero Funding

LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaking on the 2017 budget. Reynolds estimated that $80 million is needed for Vision Zero. As it now stands, the Budget Committee currently has no funds allocated to Vision Zero. Screenshot via

As it now stands, this Thursday the Los Angeles City Council could approve a fiscal year 2017-18 budget that includes no funding specifically for Vision Zero. The budget would dedicate $24 million in new funding to road resurfacing, while Vision Zero might in the future receive some unspecified portion of unallocated portion of transportation funding balance.

As outlined in an earlier SBLA article, the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee is figuring out how to spend two new sources of funding: Measure M county sales tax local return and S.B. 1 gas tax increase revenue. These are new monies with some uncertainty in timing and flexibility. Measure M starts on July 1. S.B. 1's gas tax starts January 2018. Revenue figures have bounced around a bit on these funding sources, but there is now about $47 million worth of new funding still undecided: nearly $40 million from Measure M, and nearly $8 million from S.B. 1.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had proposed a budget that would have tied $30 million for street resurfacing together with $16.7 million for Vision Zero. LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds estimated $80 million needed for fiscal year 2017-18 to reduce traffic fatalities by 20 percent.

Even though Garcetti's Vision Zero allocation was inadequate, the budget committee failed to approve it. Given some differences among committee members, the committee's plan had been to push the $47 million in new funding into an unallocated balance, to be determined later by further committee and council deliberations expected to take place in advance of the July 1 start date for the new budget.

On Friday afternoon (city video starting at 1:43:00), Councilmember Paul Krekorian moved that for the 2017-18 budget the city would allocate half of Measure M and S.B. 1 funds to street reconstruction: $20 million from Measure M local return, and $4 million from S.B. 1 gas tax.

Councilmembers Krekorian and Mitch Englander made that case that Measure M had been advertised to voters as fixing roads, so it was the council's duty to make good on that. The same Measure M promotion also promised to fix sidewalks and touted the goal of a broad multi-modal transportation system.

Despite LADOT having submitted a Vision Zero work plan with costs (see budget memos 130 and 131), Krekorian and Englander both asserted that directing monies to LADOT for Vision Zero was - in Krekorian's words "buying a pig in a poke" - paying for an unknown quantity lacking "specific expenditures." The Bureau of Street Services has not submitted an expenditure plan, but can pour money into its perpetually backlogged repaving programs, which divide expenditures by 15 for the 15 council districts.

The Vision Zero plan, by contrast, focuses interventions in areas where the loss of life is greatest. In the words of councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Mike Bonin: "Equity demands more significant investments be made in South Los Angeles, the East San Fernando Valley and the city’s urban core."

At committee, Councilmember Bonin questioned the wisdom of locking in repaving expenditures while not dedicating any funds specifically for Vision Zero. Bonin has pushed for the lion's share of Measure M local return to be set aside for Vision Zero, as was approved in Bonin's Transportation Committee. Bonin made the case that even putting all of the unallocated $23 million balance towards Vision Zero is not enough to reach L.A.'s adopted traffic fatality reduction policy goal.

Krekorian responded that "nobody's intent" is to zero out Vision Zero, but that further deliberations were needed, beyond the scope of that day's budget hearing.

After about an hour's discussion, Krekorian's motion was approved with councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, Englander, and Krekorian voting in favor. Councilmembers Nury Martinez and Bonin voted against.

In an interview with Streetsblog this morning, Bonin expressed frustration that his colleagues were praising the city budget for its no-kill animal shelters, while not yet dedicating any money to no-kill sidewalks. Bonin said that it didn't make any sense for the council to put off Vision Zero funding that would prevent deaths and save lives. Bonin further stated that he is continuing to push for a genuine city commitment to Vision Zero.

This could take place at the full council vote on the city budget, scheduled for this Thursday, or in further deliberation on the remaining $23 million unallocated balance. The unallocated balance could be decided in a council committee soon, perhaps a joint meeting of the Transportation and Budget committees.

One other elected official who can continue to influence the city budget is Mayor Garcetti. At Friday's hearing Garcetti deputy chief of staff Matt Szabo stressed that the mayor favors both "overlapping objectives" of resurfacing and "incorporating livability and safety." Further, though, Szabo stated that the mayor would support the majority of Measure M local funds going to resurfacing. In committee, Bonin stated that he would not support a budget that doesn't have a Vision Zero program. Would Garcetti sign a city budget with no money for Vision Zero? Can Garcetti work his influence with council allies, Krekorian prominent among them, to make sure that the budget includes - at least - Garcetti's proposed $16.7 million Vision Zero allocation?

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