“Accountability” and “transparency.” Two words that–you can generally get a consensus–sound great. They are also two words that are difficult to realize in practice, never mind come to a consensus about what practice. The Measure M Ordinance that guides the investment of over $120 billion in LA County public funds has included in its core goals: “Provide accountability and transparency; protect and monitor the public’s investments through independent audits and oversight.” This is not unreasonable for a ballot measure that was approved by 70% of Los Angeles County voters last year who agreed to tax themselves to generate revenue for regional transportation improvements.
How do we spend our money right?
At the November Metro Policy Advisory Council (PAC) meeting this week, everyone in attendance was in agreement that guidelines for the Multi-year Subregional Program (MSP) must include accountability and transparency. The MSP is a $10 billion discretionary funding program divided among the County’s nine subregions. PAC members discussed accountability through performance measures and transparency through public participation. But this only highlighted the differences that exist both across our vast region and also across various sectors of transportation policymakers, operators, and consumers.
Leading up to the meeting, Investing in Place worked with our consumer and advocacy partners to recommend that MSP guidelines include at least one shared regional quantitative performance measure and non-governmental representation in MSP project decision-making processes. We believe that while our County of 10 million people has diverse needs and opportunities, we also have shared regional goals to improve the quality of life for those 10 million people (and more!) who use our transportation systems every day. Our position that a shared regional performance measure would be an innovative and data-driven method to ensure accountability of public investments was met with a range of reactions at the PAC, from skepticism to direct disagreement. Consensus was not looking likely.
Where we landed
In a vote of 12-6, PAC members opted to require that each of the nine subregions shall consult with stakeholders in the development of their respective MSP public participation processes. This position retains flexibility for each subregion to utilize any existing public participation methods or to adopt newer engagement practices in an effort to improve the process.
In a vote of 17-1, PAC members chose to endorse Option 2 in Metro’s MSP Performance Measures Memo, which would allow each subregion to apply qualitative performance measures from a list included in the Measure M administrative procedures. Climate Resolve cast the lone dissenting vote, voicing concern that the PAC was missing an opportunity to utilize quantitative data to measure impact. The approved motion also included that Metro provide performance measurement best practices and readily available data sources to subregions, where possible. Lastly the motion set a rough checkpoint of nine months from now to check-in and have subregions share their performance measurement practices.
“If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary”
Compromising is never easy. But the PAC was not established to bring together a committee of “yes” people. Rather, it was the vision of Metro CEO Phil Washington to practice good governance and convene diverse stakeholders and decisionmakers to advise Metro in best planning practices. This is something Investing in Place works to create with our own multi-sectoral convenings like the Tripping Point and COG forum.
We acknowledge that we are working with a brand-new program (MSP) from a brand-new funding source (Measure M). We also acknowledge that change is hard and that change moves at the speed of trust. While some PAC members see this new program as an opportunity to try new practices, others are not yet comfortable at that speed. But the fact that all PAC members are open to assessing subregional practices in accountability and transparency is the right first step to building trust across representatives with shared goals but different strategies.
The next nine months will be a critical period for education and evaluation. Investing in Place is committed to developing educational tools to ensure our partners that work inside and outside of government have a clear and strong understanding of these complex Metro policies and programs. We do this work because these complex programs have real, lasting impact on the built environments of all communities in LA County and if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are on the menu. We want our most vulnerable communities to sit at these decisionmaking tables.
At the same time, we look to our partners at Metro and working on subregion boards to critically evaluate the process of investing voter-approved public funds in transportation projects. We will continue to be a part of the conversation to ensure that the Measure M core goal of “accountability and transparency” is one that sounds great—and can also be realized.