Friday, June 10, 2022

Under the Surface: The Roots of LA’s Lack of Progress Toward Safer Streets

If you saw the June 7 Los Angeles Times editorial “Is LA Getting Serious About Safer Streets?” you probably came away with more questions than answers. That’s because LA public works and transportation policy looks a lot like the roots in that striking photo that leads the piece: a meandering mess that trips up even the most intrepid advocates (or that most people are forced to just go around).

So here’s how we see it and what you can do about….

The editorial mentions a potential ballot initiative for 2024 and a separate but related motion the LA City Council will consider this month. 

Both the grassroots-led ballot measure and the City Council’s motion in response are great signs. They bring focus to our urgent need for:

  • Safer streets
  • A way to make progress toward safer streets inevitable (by tying one action to another: if street work is happening, new safety measures must be included)
  • An overarching plan for maintaining and improving LA’s entire public right-of-way infrastructure

With the changes coming to the Mayor’s office, City Council and other critical elected offices, and the next several months of campaigning, it is essential to bring these issues to light. 

At Investing in Place, we have begun focusing much of our efforts on that third bullet – the need for an overarching plan for everything related to public works and transportation in Los Angeles. We believe this is the key to achieving bullets 1 and 2. The ballot initiative and the motion each make some progress in that area, but there are nuances (of course) that we’ll explore here in detail.

With this in mind and with what follows here, we hope you will consider your role: 

  • Participate in the joint committee meeting on Wednesday 6/22 at 2pm and weigh in
  • Submit public comment to the council file (CF 15-0719-S26)
  • Connect with us to talk more about what’s happening and ways to get involved 

Some Crucial Background and Context

Over the past year, a coalition of groups led by Streets For All has been gathering signatures to place a measure on the LA City ballot, seeking voter approval to implement the City’s Mobility Plan 2035 every time a street has substantial improvements made to it such as repaving. These Mobility Plan networks include the Bicycle Enhanced Network, the Neighborhood Enhanced Network, the Transit Enhanced Network, Pedestrian Enhanced Districts, etc. These networks are “aspirational” – meaning they set the vision for modal priorities on corridors, while also requiring further conceptual design and community outreach to weigh trade offs related to implementation of those networks. The coalition expects to submit their signatures for qualification for the November 2024 ballot in the next several weeks. 

In anticipation of this, Council President Martinez alongside four other Councilmembers (De León, Harris-Dawson, Price, and Rodriguez) (Council File: 15-0719-S26) introduced a motion to develop an ordinance based on the Healthy Streets Ballot measure for adoption by the City Council. The motion takes the ballot measure further by calling for project coordination among all the many departments that touch the public right of way and to prioritize these projects based on equity.  


What Might Happen Throughout the Summer

City Council is working to have the motion approved in some form before they go on summer recess (July 5 – July 22).  And, in order for the City Council to approve it, it must be first heard in the committees the motion was assigned to, for discussion and potentially changes.  For this motion, it will be heard in a joint committee meeting of Public Works and Transportation on June 22nd and later in the Rules, Elections, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.  It is expected to be approved in committee and sent to the full City Council, and if approved there, one of its first tasks will be led by the City’s Attorney’s office to draft the ordinance.  Then depending on how long it takes for the ordinance to be drafted, the earliest it could be reviewed and discussed by the City Council is in August. 

This motion is aligned with the timing for the Healthy Streets Ballot initiative as it is expected to turn in its signatures in the next several weeks, and if the initiative is certified by the City Clerk, it then goes to City Council with three options: 

  •     adopt it as written,
  •     put it to voters in a special election, 
  •     put it to voters in the next general election

Several Possible Outcomes 

After June (based on the outcomes of the above), there can be several possibilities from there: the city adopts a new ordinance and the coalition withdraws their ballot measure. That is one option. The other option would be for the City to adopt theirs but then also adopt a companion measure that talks about how to implement theirs.

The motion introduced from City Council a few weeks ago is an effort to prepare for the ballot measure and to take it a step further than the Mobility Plan 2035 currently goes by integrating elements that aren’t as easily drawn on the mobility plan project maps like: crosswalks, bus shelters, street lights, stormwater infrastructure, sidewalk repairs and street trees.  

And the new motion brings that expansive vision towards equitable implementation by elevating the need for cross departmental and bureau collaboration,  and most importantly, it calls for a system to prioritize the work by existing definitions of equity in a multiyear work plan that is tied to funding.¹  


The Need for a Capital Infrastructure Plan for LA

The current motion is elevating an issue core to our hearts, creating a capital infrastructure plan. Many people are surprised to learn that the close to $1 billion in funds the City of Los Angeles (and this isn’t even counting State and Federal funding + Metro capital projects within the City) gets by formula every year has no long range plan for investing those dollars.  Creating a Capital Infrastructure Plan for the City,  is something Council President Martinez has been calling for and this new motion builds on those efforts. 

 Three things this motion gets right: 

  1. Puts the issues of the City’s public right of way front and center during the next several months of local election campaigns and civic discussions. 
  2. Addresses the lack of implementation of the City’s Mobility Plan 2035 mobility networks as elevated by Streets for All and a coalition of organizations with their pending ballot initiative. 
  3. Highlights the long-standing need for a Capital Infrastructure Plan that coordinates and prioritizes public works and transportation projects that bakes in equity from the start.  And this effort builds off previous efforts and work currently underway in the Chief Administrative Office (CAO).  (See Council File 21-0039) and for transportation projects at LADOT (See Council File 19-1373).

Five questions that must be answered as this issue goes forward to policy discussion: 

  1. What is the single, unified vision for Public Works and Transportation from City policymakers? 
  2. How do the departments working in the City’s public right of way  coordinate today and why doesn’t that work well? The agency leaders and those doing the work (as disjointed as it might be), need to share the barriers to doing this.  As a first step in this process, in January 2022, General Managers of various departments including the Department of Public Works (DPW) and LADOT signed onto a, “Interdepartmental Memorandum of Understanding: Improving Project Planning and Delivery in the Public Right of Way.”² 
  3. How does each department approach capital planning? (How far into the future do they look, do they maintain strategic unfunded project lists, how do they prioritize their own local resources? How do they get input from the public?)
  4. What is the right way to bring communities in on planning for the public right of way without giving privileged voices unfair influence? To what extent should local stakeholders be able to hold up projects with broader benefits?
  5. How does this build on the existing work from the City’s Administrative Office (CAO) to create a 5 year funding plan and prioritize funding by equity metric? (See January 26, 2022 CAO report

This issue of public spending on public infrastructure is one of the top issues for our city. Investing in Place will  continue to track the progress of the various efforts and will work with community partners, policymakers, and agency staff to understand the challenges, and the opportunities for solutions.  Stay tuned for more. 


¹Currently the Mobility Plan 2035 does not identify funding, contained scoped out projects, or a prioritization plan based on equity metrics, it relies on detailed maps that identify high level priorities for key streets.  It has been the view that a General Plan (which requires a lengthy General Plan Amendment process and City Council approval to update) should not contain these elements. These would be better contained in a Capital Infrastructure Plan (CIP) or Mobility Improvement Plan (MIP).

²The Board of Public Works also adopted the Interagency MOU. This agreement between departments sets into motion new processes for project scoping, agency coordination, data sharing, and joint work program development to deliver more holistic projects in the public right of way.


Key information:  Council File: 15-0719-S26

Date introduced: 05/25/2022

Title: Mobility Plan 2035 / Street Improvement Measures / Healthy Streets LA Ballot Measure / Street Resurfacing / Slurry Seal Projects / High Injury Network / Dangerous Streets


  •     Kevin De León
  •     Marqueece Harris-Dawson
  •     Nury Martinez 
  •     Curren D. Price, Jr.
  •     Monica  Rodriguez 


  •     Herb Weson, Jr. 

Pending in Committee

  •     Transportation Committee
    • Bonin, Chair
    • Koretz
    • Buscaino
  •     Public Works Committee
    • Blumenfield, Chair
    • Lee
    • De León
    • O’Farrell 
  •     Rules, Elections, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee
    • Martinez, Chair
    • O’ Farrell
    • Buscaino 

Section 452 (b) of Los Angeles Charter: 

When an initiative petition requesting the adoption by the Council of a proposed ordinance is presented to the Council by the City Clerk, the Council must take one of the following actions within 20 days after the presentation, unless the petition is withdrawn by the proponents:

  • adopt the proposed ordinance, without alteration;
  • call a special election to be held not earlier than 110 days nor more than 140 days after Council action on the petition to submit the proposed ordinance, without alteration, to a vote of the electors of the City; or
  • determine to submit the proposed ordinance, without alteration, to a vote of the electors of the City at either the next regular City election to be held more than 110 days from the date of Council action on the petition or the next Statewide election conducted by the County of Los Angeles to be held more than 110 days from the date of Council action on the petition.

Election Code 711(d):

Withdrawal of Initiative. The proponents of an initiative petition may withdraw the petition at any time before the City Council has taken action on the initiative pursuant to Charter Section 452 or 453. The proponents also may withdraw the initiative after the City Council has taken action to submit the initiative to a vote of the electors under Charter Section 452 or 453, provided that withdrawal occurs not later than the 88th day before the election and only upon approval of the proponents and the City Council. In order to withdraw the initiative, the proponents shall file with the City Clerk a written notice of withdrawal signed by all five proponents. 


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