An ambitious measure to dramatically expand Los Angeles County's mass transit system widened its lead Wednesday morning as election officials counted ballots into the wee hours of the night. With 46% of the precincts reporting, 68.82% of voters gave a thumbs-up to Measure M, as of about 12:45 a.m. That's above the 66.67% threshold it needs to win. On Tuesday night, Measure M backers were optimistic they would pull off a win. I don't ever declare victory until the end," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
They didn't draw out the long-inflamed passions that the marijuana legalization initiative has. They didn't carry the solemn consequences of abolishing or expediting the death penalty. They certainly didn't evoke the fury of the presidential election. But civic leaders and activists waited anxiously for two local measures that would directly affect anyone who lives or drives on the streets of Los Angeles for decades to come. No measure on the ballot Tuesday could shape the future of Los Angeles more than Measure M, which would fund the most ambitious transit expansion in Los Angeles County history.
A half-cent sales tax increase that would fund the most ambitious transit expansion in Los Angeles County history appeared to be leading in early returns Tuesday night. Measure M would generate an estimated $120 billion over four decades for Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus and rail operations, system maintenance and fare subsidies, as well as a dramatic expansion of the county's growing rail network. The proposal has the potential to transform a traffic-choked region that began building a modern rail network decades after other U.S. cities. The tax revenue would fund the construction of nearly a dozen new rail lines, including twin rail tunnels through the Sepulveda Pass and new connections to Pacoima, Claremont, Artesia and Torrance. At a joint victory party Tuesday night for several local ballot measures, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti -- Measure M's most visible advocate -- took the stage to applause.
Los Angeles voters appeared to take decisive action on two of the region's most vexing issues -- traffic and homelessness -- backing two ballot measures that would funnel billions of dollars to ease both problems. While final ballots still were being counted, returns show voters approved both measures by the needed two-thirds majority, though officials say it could take days for the tallies to be finalized. If approved, Los Angeles would begin two expensive experiments: Building many new rail lines in an effort to get commuters out of their cars and creating new permanent housing for the homeless. There is plenty of skepticism about whether either will work. But voters appeared willing to give the ideas a try as they endure worsening gridlock on roads and the homeless population continues to swell.
Mayor Eric Garcetti got lucky. When he took office in 2013, the national and regional economies were on the upswing and he was able to spend a little money instead of being forced to slash programs and services dramatically, as his predecessor had to do. Garcetti had an ally in President Obama, who directed billions of dollars to L.A., including funding for rail lines and anti-poverty programs. And there were no major crises in the city during the last four years -- no secession votes, no earthquakes, no civil unrest. Now, the calm is ending.