Metro Transit Plan To Ballot

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On Thursday, The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the updated Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan for placement on the upcoming November ballot. The sales tax measure calls for a sustained funding approach that, if approved by the voters, would accelerate and pay for a wide variety of transit and highway projects, roadway improvements and pedestrian and bike paths.

“Today’s action paves the way towards building and sustaining a world-class, 21st Century transportation system here in Los Angeles County to accommodate the region’s growing needs,” said Metro Board Chair and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “The placement of this important measure before the voters in November is a giant step in order to improve mobility, create jobs and improve the quality of life for all of L.A. County.”

“This plan includes hundreds of local and regional capital improvement projects,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “But this plan goes far beyond building and delivering projects. It includes operating and maintaining the system we build, developing new services that meet
the shifting needs of our region and it creates a smarter system that takes full advantage of the technology that is out there today and technology of the future that has yet to be developed.”

The Board also adopted an ordinance that included the expenditure plan that will implement the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a transportation sales tax measure and also adopted a resolution requesting that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors place the ordinance on the ballot with specific ballot language for the November 8, 2016,
countywide general election. The Board also approved a Metro staff recommendation to add $10.9 million to fund election related and public information activities.

The new Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan is available at www.metro.net/theplan.

A Promise Zone in South LA

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The Obama administration has awarded South Los Angeles a federal Promise Zone designation, giving it priority access to federal funding as well as technical assistance to address the area’s 46 percent poverty rate.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti made the announcement during a press conference at Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC). She said the goal of the Promise Zone initiative, created by President Barack Obama in 2013, is to significantly reduce poverty by providing greater resources to serve residents.

The new South L.A. Promise Zone is home to nearly 198,000 residents in parts of Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park, and the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhoods. It is one of one of 13 urban Promise Zones in the nation, and the second in the City of Los Angeles.

IMG_0656 (1)A coalition of 53 community partners and more than 50 allies who developed the winning application call it the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z). They seek to capitalize on opportunities that new light rail lines bring for economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

“SLATE-Z represents an unprecedented partnership among dozens of diverse organizations with the collective vision of improving the quality of life in South LA,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This place-based approach aims to transform distressed neighborhoods into destination neighborhoods.”

Larry Frank, president of LATTC and convener of the SLATE-Z coalition, said, “With preference points on most federal grant opportunities and a partnership with HUD staff, the existing LA Promise Zone received more than $100 million in grants since designation in 2014. It is now South L.A.’s chance to step up.”

The federal designation will bring crucial benefits to residents. For example, students at the 11 comprehensive high schools in SLATE-Z will receive increased support to prepare for colleges and careers. Currently, more than half of residents older than 25 have less than a high school education and only nine percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The coalition also plans to tackle the 12 percent unemployment rate and under- employment to move more residents into living wage jobs and career pathways.

One of the coalition’s early victories was securing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s unanimous approval to create the Universal Pass or U-Pass pilot program, making more part-time students eligible for fare discounts. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Metro Board chair, carried the motion.

“The Promise Zone designation will help build on the incredible things already happening in South Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “This will bring new resources, energy, and urgency into our movement to expand opportunity in all of L.A.’s neighborhoods.”

US Rep. Karen Bass added, “This isn’t just an incredible victory for South Los Angeles, it shows that when our community leadership works together, we can accomplish great things for our neighborhoods.

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Homeless Crisis One-on-One

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Emerging from the Governor’s Office after meeting with Governor Jerry Brown

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas sat down with Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon.

“I am very encouraged by the frank discussions I had with our state’s leaders in conveying the seriousness of the homeless crisis in Los Angeles County,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The Governor, Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem understand the County’s need to act quickly, and we are working with them as we seek funding to address the most compelling issue before us.”

The discussions focused on a request to permit the County to ask voters to consider a personal income tax on annual income in excess of $1 million. Such a ballot initiative, if approved, would generate $243 million a year, nearly half of the estimated funds needed in the battle against homelessness.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the California State Capitol

Los Angeles County Half-Percent Tax:
A Model for Right Action

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Darrell Steinberg served as California State Senate President pro Tempore in 2008-2014

Los Angeles County has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, made up of more than 46,000 men, women, children, veterans and the elderly, who live on the streets on any given night. Many of these people live with a serious mental illness and a majority of them also struggle with a substance use disorder. For reasons as varied as each individual, thousands of people live on the streets in makeshift tents and sleep under bridges, and the majority spend their days and nights in a constant search for a safe place in what is a highly volatile and unforgiving environment. This human tragedy must no longer be ignored.

In 2004, I co-authored Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. Our goal was to infuse California with funding to provide high-quality services and support to people who live with a mental illness. The initiative was approved by voters and currently places a 1 percent tax on individuals whose personal incomes exceed $1 million. This ongoing revenue source is currently bringing in $2 billion and I know it is making a profound, positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people and yet, it is not enough. Many continue to languish on the streets of every county in our state.

Given the immensity of the homeless population in Los Angeles, the County Board of Supervisors has put forward a proposal very similar to Proposition 63 that would create a half-percent tax on yearly income for millionaires residing only in Los Angeles County. If the Board is successful at getting the initiative on the November ballot, and the measure is approved by voters, it is estimated to generate about $250 million annually to fund the County’s plan to eradicate homelessness in Los Angeles altogether.

In order to levy a direct income tax on residents, the Board must first gain the approval of the California State Legislature and the Governor. Once that is achieved, the initiative will be placed on the ballot and voters in Los Angeles County will then have the opportunity to decide for themselves if eradicating homelessness is a priority for them.

I am in full support of this proposal and commend the legislators who are leading the charge on this issue. Common sense tells us that the first step toward improving the lives of those who live on the streets is to get them off it and into decent housing. Once that basic need is met, lives are changed for the better, hundreds of millions of dollars can be saved in public services annually, and Los Angeles, Sacramento, and other California cities and counties can be a model for right action and a beacon in our state and nation.

To view the article on the Huffington Post, click here.

Darrell Steinberg served as the California State Senate President pro Tempore and the leader of the majority party in the California State Senate from 2008 to 2014, until his retirement. He co-authored Proposition 63, approved by voters in 2004, which imposes a 1 percent tax on incomes exceeding $1 million to fund mental health services. Proposition 63 generates $2 billion annually to help people struggling with mental illness throughout California. He is a founder and Board Chair of the Steinberg Institute for Advancing Mental Health Policy, and the Director of Policy and Advocacy and a visiting professor for the UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence.

Faces of the Homeless Fuel the Fight

Los Angeles County Supervisors now have a daily reminder of the “Faces of Homelessness,” an art exhibit on display just outside their downtown offices in the Hall of Administration. The exhibit, unveiled June 1, features 18 oil-on-canvas portraits of homeless neighbors accompanied by moving biographies.

“The portraits and biographies are filled with human tragedy,” the artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman, said. “If you hear their stories and look into their eyes, you will never see a homeless person the same way again.”

The artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman

The artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman

Dr. Stuart Perlman has been a psychologist and psychoanalyst in West Los Angeles for over 30 years. In 2010, he began painting portraits of homeless individuals. He spent hours listening to their stories and getting to know them. He now has over 160 portraits of homeless individuals from Venice Beach to Skid Row.

“These are portraits of actual people, who have a name, a past, and more importantly, a future,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at the unveiling.

“Displaying this captivating art is important, but it is vital that we take action to address the crisis of homelessness,” the Supervisor said.

The County Board of Supervisors is doing just that—specifically, asking the State to permit the County to ask voters if they are willing to allow a personal income tax on the wealthy to fund homelessness programs. Based on the county’s call to action, a coalition of state legislators sent an open letter to the Governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem in support of Los Angeles County’s request seeking a tax on personal income in excess of $1 million.

To help fund the fight against homelessness, please join the Board of Supervisors in contacting state lawmakers to voice your support.