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Some LA cities claim proposal to hike taxes to expand public transit is unfair

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They're taking Metro to court

Since June, when its board of directors approved a ballot measure asking voters for a half-cent sales tax increase to fund new transportation projects, Metro has been campaigning hard for what it’s now referring to as Measure M. That initiative would greatly expand public transit infrastructure countywide, make key freeway improvements, and even expand regional bike trails; but not everyone is happy with the ballot measure.

As Los Angeles Daily News reports, a coalition of cities filed a petition last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court disputing the wording of Measure M as it will appear on November ballots. The seven cities are mainly located in the South Bay and Gateway Cities region and include Carson, Commerce, Norwalk, Ranchos Palos Verdes, Santa Fe Springs, Signal Hill, and Torrance. They maintain that the language of the ballot measure is misleading and does not give voters a true sense of the scale and timeframe of what Metro is asking.

In a press release, Carson mayor Albert Robles says the ballot measure, "does not meet the simple test of fairness and equity," noting that most of Metro’s proposed projects in the South Bay are not scheduled to be complete until decades in the future.

For reference, here’s the complete wording of the measure as it exists today:

G. Ross Trindle, III, the lead attorney representing the coalition of cities, argues this description is far too vague. "The public deserves, and the law requires, a transparent, accurate description of tax Measure M, including spending priorities," he says in the press statement released by Carson. "At a minimum, state law requires the ballot label to disclose how much money Measure M will cost taxpayers every year—and it does not do that."

The cities also allege that Metro is misleading voters about the true cost of the sales tax increase. Under Measure M, not only would the sales tax rate rise a half-cent, but a previous increase of the same amount (under Measure R) would be continued. Since that increase would otherwise expire after 30 years, the petitioners argue that the increase amounts to a full percentage point and should be proposed as such in the measure’s wording.

The seven petitioning cities want to get a hearing on this issue as soon as possible, though the Daily News reports that it won’t be today, as lawyers for the coalition were late for a hearing.

Going forward, Metro’s greatest challenge in getting its ballot measure approved by two-thirds of LA voters will likely be winning over South Bay voters. Notably, when the Metro board approved the proposed sales tax hike, the two dissenting votes came from Southeastern LA county officials: Lakewood Vice Mayor Diane DuBois and Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe.

"Gateway cities and South Bay cities are being leapfrogged by higher profile projects like the Sepulveda Pass Tunnel and Westside Subway," Knabe said in a statement issued after Metro's board approved the measure. He argued that prioritizing such projects, "is simply not geographically equitable, nor is it fair to our residents who will be funding these projects for decades before they truly benefit."