Councilmember Bill Rosendahl of Los Angeles’ 11th District has witnessed traffic rise steadily across the Westside for decades. Job growth in Santa Monica and other Westside cities has drawn commuters from across the Los Angeles region since the passage of Prop 13, and District 11 residents suffer the most from it. Councilmember Rosendahl tells TPR of his support for alternative transportation solutions. Additionally, LA needs to think like a region: jobs and airlines concentrated on the Westside do not adequately serve the Southern California area.
“The only way that United, American, Delta, and some of the international carriers will go to Ontario is if it’s cheaper to land there than it is at LAX.” -Bill Rosendahl
Bring us up to date on the challenges that the Westside faces with respect to mobility, clearly the most critical issue in your council district.
We are right now in the worst of times on the Westside when it comes to gridlock. We’re paralyzed for hours every single day.
This was a gradual situation that built up over a 15-20 year period. You might remember when Prop 13 passed, property taxes, which once was how cities ran themselves, were switched to sales taxes and to business taxes. The City receives 27 percent of all property tax revenues in LA County -- the same as 27 cents out of every dollar collected.
The small communities took advantage of that moment to figure out how to make their budgets work. Santa Monica, being an example, rezoned areas from R1 and R2 to business and industrial uses, and they made a major campaign, as did Culver City, to attract businesses. Santa Monica has become the jobs capital of the Westside. Now people from the Valley, from the Eastside, from the Southside, and from the South Bay, every morning starting around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, drive to work in Santa Monica.
How many cars per day to the Westside?
A couple hundred of thousand cars every day. And the drivers clearly know every possible route from spending years trying to drive to Santa Monica. Culver City did the same thing. Back in the 1920s the City of Venice gave a piece of land to Culver City, between Washington Boulevard and Washington Place. It’s full of shops and ends up at a Costco. That is their land at the edge of Lincoln and the 90 Freeway. People on the ground don’t know that there are the boundaries. I never knew that the Vons I went to is in Culver City.
Small towns were able to get their act together with the Prop 13 backdrop and rely on sales taxes. There was no coherent relationship between the City of LA and Santa Monica. In the past, my current district was split into two different areas: there was Marvin Braude and Cindy Miscikowski at the northern part, and there was Ruth Galanter and Pat Russell at the southern part. But no one took it all into their scope that the City of Santa Monica is impacting us.
When I was first elected in 2005 I joined the Westside Council of Governments, and the City Attorney’s office at the time to me, “you don’t want to join it because it’s one city – one vote, and you represent 285,000 people.” My answer immediately was that I don’t care about one city – one vote—I care about being in the room to deal with development issues, transportation issues, and homelessness issues so that we can cooperate and work together.
Santa Monica has developed its light industrial base but has not built more housing. People come from everywhere to their jobs in Santa Monica. Now if you go on the 10 Freeway downtown, like I do, you’ve seen gradually, as I have, congestion going from the Westside to the Eastside downtown gradually building to the point where the real traffic is coming from the East and going to the West. In the South Bay it’s the same issue.
What has the passage of Measure R meant for mobility and for a policymaker like you, who is invested in mitigating congestion?
Measure R is a dream come true, and how it’s developed over the last few years has been spectacular. I was an early supporter of Michael Feuer when he ran for the State Assembly, and I knew him as a Councilmember. He put Measure R together. I applaud him for how quickly he went forward in crafting the necessary legislation.
It was also the late State Senator Jenny Oropeza who wouldn’t allow Measure R to move from the Budget Committee unless the Green Line was included in the legislation. Oropeza’s demand resulted in Zev, Antonio and Michael calling me. I kept saying “I wanted to do that! I’m for that!” I kept asking how we have no rail access to the sixth largest airport on the planet? Come on! With the Green Line include, Measure R ended up on the ballot in 2008, and more than 2/3rds of the people voted ‘yes’. This was a major moment. And it is important to note that in the beginning (Fall of 2008) of an economic downturn the people voted ‘yes’ to tax themselves a half cent for transportation.
A fun moment for me was when Congressman Mica came to town, the Republican head of the House Transportation Committee. I asked him whether he support us with Measure R and maybe having an infrastructure bank. He said, “Bill, every time my wife and I land in LAX, she asks, ‘where’s the light rail? where’s the subway? how come LA doesn’t have it’?” That was very encouraging to hear that Republicans and Democrats saw what I saw: it’s not a political issue; it is a people issue.
We do this interview one day after Michael Feuer’s AB 1446 – a measure to extend Measure R – passed in the Assembly. How important is Assemblyman Feuer’s new bill?
I am thrilled. This is Michael Feuer again at his best. He’s now running for city attorney, and, by the way, I’ve endorsed him for that job.
AB 1446 will allow us to bond future tax revenues and not depend on politics in DC going our way or not. It will be an expression of the people’s commitment to getting out of gridlock. It took us 20-30 years to get into this mess; it’s going to take us 10-15 years to get out of it. It’s impossible to get around the LA Metro area in the automobile anymore, and if we don’t get the mass transit in place now, it’s just going to grow more frustrating. My side of town is the most gridlocked. Sometimes it takes you an hour to go five or six miles, just because it’s that time of day.
Share with our readers the current politics of compromise and reaching consensus on the Los Angeles City Council. Rail projects, for example, are very expensive and are needed throughout metropolitan LA, but they will only be built in phases that are dependent on funding. In representing the 11th District, how do you find common ground on the City Council for assuring that the Westside gets its fair share of scarce transportation funding?
We’re all connected. The people who paralyze the streets on the Westside come from all over the region. I’m a big regionalist. I don’t see LA as a city—I see a region from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
For instance, consider LAX. Modernizing LAX provides two values. First, it’s the first impression people have of this megalopolis of 25 million people, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Visitors come from all over the world, and this is their first glimpse of America.
Second, and more importantly at my end, my selfish end, modernizing LAX means the costs get passed onto the major airlines. 1984 was the last time they did anything at LAX, and all the other major airports—Miami, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Fort Worth—have spent money in modernizing themselves. LAX is the cheapest one to land in, so the guys in the green shades who talk about profit in the airlines don’t care if it takes you two hours to get from the Inland Empire or Orange County to get to the discount flight in LAX.
What I learned early on was that the more you modernize LAX, the more the costs get passed on to the airlines. Then all of a sudden Ontario, which is the Maytag man waiting for business, will have nonstop, direct, frequent, and discounted flights like there are now at LAX.
On a recent policy panel hosted by the Four Corners Group, leadership from the Inland Empire and LAWA’s Gina Marie Lindsey discussed the possibility of Ontario Airport gaining independence from Los Angeles ownership. Those from the Inland Empire are concerned that the City of LA is frustrating economic growth and will never let them take more control of their airport – a generator of growth. Is that true?
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I will say this: the only way that United, American, Delta, and some of the international carriers will go to Ontario is if it’s cheaper to land there than it is at LAX. It’s all about bucks. I sat with the President or the Chairman of the Board of United early in my elected position, and he says to me, “Bill, there just isn’t the market there.” I said baloney: people from the Inland Empire, Ventura, and Orange County would love to go there. Nobody wants to take the 405 in this gridlock to this airport that’s difficult to get in and out of. They would much rather go to Ontario. I explained that we’re planning a direct line from Anaheim to Ontario. I can see people going to a multimodal center in Anaheim and taking rail to Ontario. I can see the people from anywhere in the Inland Empire and Ventura going to Ontario. Who wants to schlep for two hours to get to the gates at LAX?
A Councilman from the City of Ontario said, “we can’t trust the City Council of LA. They’re likely to let LAX grow to 115 map and at the expense of Ontario Airport.”
I like Councilman Wapner, and the reason I like him is that I don’t want LAX to ever get to 100 million. I tried to tell the LA Chamber that when a plane lands in Ontario, it’s multiplier effect to our economy is similar to the multiplier effect at LAX because we are a region. I tell these people think regionally. With Ontario it isn’t who owns Ontario—it’s the airlines looking at their profit.
People from the Inland Empire who would like to go to New York or Chicago can’t get direct flights out of Ontario, and the reason they can’t is the airlines will not go there until it’s cheaper. That is already happening as modernization continues at LAX. Right now, I’m told, airline cost at Ontario is roughly about 12 bucks per passenger. Just this year, LAX became slightly more expensive. Let another year or two go by and let the Bradley Terminal get done.
At the Four Corners hosted discussion, MOVE LA’s Denny Zane said that what would really contribute to Ontario Airport’s revival would be to invest Measure R and other transportation funding in building rail access from downtown LA and Anaheim to Ontario.
It’s all good, but those accesses only have value when the airlines see the value in doing non-stop direct and discounted flights out of Ontario. They’re the big shots in the room. Of course tying it to mass transit will make it convenient for other parts of the region, but it’s the airlines that have to make that decision. We can run a line from Anaheim to Ontario, and we can do a line from Downtown to Ontario. That’s all part of the massive Measure R business, but the timing has to coincide with modernization going on at LAX so the airlines can see the value from their perspective of having non-stop direct frequent and discounted flights.
When you hear the number 405, what comes to mind?
I think of the most paralyzed, horrific intersection in the world. Last summer we experienced Carmageddon -- the closure of the 405 freeway for an entire weekend. We’ll see that again this year plus we’ll experience the closure of the Wilshire ramps for 90 days. Zev is calling it ‘Ramp Jam’ and my line is patience, patience, patience. If there ever was a need for the virtue of patience, it’s now. What you see now will get even worse starting June 22nd and will go on for 90 days. When those two ramps on Wilshire are taken out of service, it’s going to be difficult. I urge you to ride your bicycle if you live in my district here. If you go the store or go to meet your neighbors, I urge you to do the barbeques in your backyard, to get on a bike, but forget the car. It’s just not going to get you anywhere.
I’ve called a joint meeting with the police, the fire department, and all of the first responders with DOT to ask what happens when 82 percent of the fire calls are medical emergencies and the ambulance can’t pick up someone who’s had a heart attack because of gridlock. The only real trauma center of total worth is the one at UCLA. To get to UCLA at a certain time of day, adding it with the Ramp Jam business, could take forty minutes. You can have all the sirens you want, but if a car can’t move to the side and let you through, it’s a safety issue.
For more than three years there’s been serious discussion of a having a countywide minimum congestion mitigation fee on new development to help local jurisdictions cover the cost of improving their regionally important transportation infrastructure/arterials. Any thoughts on the value of such a countywide congestion mitigation fee?
I think it’s worth exploring and giving it a shot. That’s why I’m so big on the Bike Plan -- it’s an inexpensive way to improve our transportation infrastructure. On the congestion find incentives to get out of the car, we’ll never get out of the mess we’re in. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that developers be required to invest in our transportation infrastructure.
Let’s pivot to CicLAvia, which made the New York Times this weekend. Your thoughts on scaling this “take back the streets” project up?
The more people get on their bikes, the better. It took thirty years for me to get back on my bicycle, and I went on it the other day. But, frankly, I’m worried about busting my arms and legs. I am a 67-years-old now, and I’m not able to just put my hands out there the way I used to! But I encourage people to get on their bicycles. Marvin Braude will always be a hero, for many things, but the bike path that he created on Venice Beach is phenomenal and is used all the way from the Palisades down to Redondo Beach. When I first got elected to Council, I sat on the Council’s transportation committee. And the day I became chair of the committee, I made cycling a priority in the City of Los Angeles and made sure that a portion of Measure R local return funds were dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian projects. I also fast tracked the implementation of the City’s five-year Bike Plan. The local returns of Measure R are allowing us to do 40 miles a year of bike lanes.
Lastly, give us your final thoughts on the need for smartly investing in Los Angeles transportation system.
We’re clearly a bustling megalopolis here in Southern California, and I really appreciate our diversity. Of course I want to see downtown continue to blossom – and include a NFL stadium and team; and of course I believe in smart growth. I’d like to see that at all those METRO stops in Hollywood incorporate smart growth strategies. I’ve also got two Metro stops where the Planning department is working to create transit oriented development plans around the station. The first one is located at Bundy and the second is at Sepulveda.
The Sepulveda location is where Councilman Paul Koretz and I worked collaboratively to find $5 million to grade separate the line. Original plans called for the line to be built at-grade at Sepulveda? Give me a break! And then they were going to do it at-grade at Bundy and Olympic? No way!
Bergamot Station is currently something I’m worrying about. What is Santa Monica going to do with 1.3 million square feet of commercial space? Are they going to build more housing so that people from the Eastside, the Southside, and the Valley who go to work in Santa Monica could maybe afford to live in Santa Monica? I’m for building up more housing, and I want more housing on the Westside, but all of it is a big package that has to be working simultaneously. What I’m very optimistic and excited about is that people put their money where their mouth is, and if the Mike Feuer’s bill gets put in there, we’re going to be able to continue to get ourselves to a point where we can say, “Hey, it’s not as bad as it used to be.”