Thursday, December 21, 2017

Opportunity always comes disguised as hard work: reflections on the past 6 months as PAC Chair

When it passed in 2016, Measure M became our region’s fourth cumulative Countywide transportation sales tax.  Los Angeles is a majority self-help County with nearly 3/4 of our region’s transportation funds generated here locally from these sales taxes (Prop A, Prop C, Measure R, and Measure M). But after Measure M was approved by almost 70% of voters, Metro needed an implementation strategy to guide investment of these public dollars. This time last year, Metro CEO Phil A. Washington proposed: “a Policy Advisory Council (PAC) that would directly advise the Board regarding Measure M guidelines and the Long Range Transportation Plan.”  

The PAC was born. A 27-member council was appointed and held it first meeting in April 2017. Its original goals were to “ensure an equal, representative voice for the following constituencies: transportation consumers, transportation providers, and accountable jurisdictions,” with all three categories containing nine representatives each.   

Over the course of the eight meetings in 2017 this diverse group has come together to advise the Measure M Master Guidelines (adopted in June 2017); begin developing the administrative process for eight Measure M programs; and shape the development of the County’s new Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP),  which serves as the key guiding document for how Metro will spend anticipated transportation revenues in the next 40-50 years.  The PAC serves as the sole public-facing advisory committee with this type of diverse representation to recommend best practices for investing Measure M revenues back into Los Angeles County.

Washington’s vision of creating a diverse constituency group to convene and discuss regional transportation policy and investments warms our holiday hearts. We strongly believe in the vision from the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) on the importance of epistemic communities, or knowledge communities”, which value not what you know but who you know it with.  It is rare to find a formal council comprised of a variety of thinkers, policymakers, implementers, and advocates to make recommendations on regional transportation policies and investments. And the different perspectives that PAC officers bring to these convenings is valuable to ensure that the diverse needs and priorities of our 10-million person County are met.

 

“Yet in diverse communities—such as those that include members prioritizing growth or equity, or that include both experts and lay people—the processes of interaction and knowledge development are more complicated.”

USC PERE: Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions

 

However, translating concepts and academic research into applied experiences/settings is tricky. We appreciate the thoughts and efforts from partners within and outside Metro to be transparent in creating this council.  This is the first time Metro has endeavored to create a public-facing accountable body like this.

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.  The PAC poses a significant time commitment for members to review and be prepared to advise on complicated policy and investment strategies. And the vastly varied perspectives on the PAC facilitate conversations that are in-depth and enlightening, but not always expeditious. It is critical that this effort stay focused on what outcomes the PAC is trying to achieve and whether the right tools are available to accomplish that.

In its first year, the PAC has weighed in on critical decision regarding the June adoption of the Measure M Master Guidelines. And in recent months worked on recommendations for the $10 billion Multi-year Subregional Programs (MSPs), a brand new source of Measure M funding split between the nine subregions and Councils of Government (COGs) of the County. MSPs are discretionary funds with potential subregional planning and implementation processes to create robust, effective, safe, and context-sensitive transportation options that seamlessly cross jurisdictional lines. However, consensus was elusive on decisions impacting MSP guidelines, including performance measures and public participation guidelines. The end of 2017 provides a good time to reassess the PAC’s realistic expected outcomes and pivot to the group’s strengths. PAC members bring a vast wealth of technical and institutional knowledge about transportation funding programs as well as best practices in community engagement partnerships that might be replicated across the County.

One reason I remain invested in this process is the PAC workplan, which is updated to reflect evolving priorities. The 2018 work plan will dive into LRTP development through issue-based policy papers with topics such as sustainability, transportation equity, and active transportation. PAC members will play an increasingly important role in setting smart policy that will impact the next generation in Los Angeles.

While transportation policy and investments can sometimes seem to move at a glacial pace we are in a moment that the Los Angeles region is making critical decisions that impact the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into our transportation system. Supporting an effective space to build a diverse  community knowledgeable on regional transportation policy is something we’re excited to continue to work on and support in the new year.

 

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