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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

Sig Alert on Congestion Fee

Year in and year out, the Los Angeles region takes home the prestigious title of being the No. 1 most congested area in the country. Travel times take 33 percent longer in traffic and everyone with a 30-minute commute experiences an average of 90 hours of delays per year. For the last decade, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has considered implementing a congestion mitigation fee (CMF) that would be placed on all future development in L.A. County. The revenues from this fee would fund regional transportation projects and improvements to diminish the county’s congestion problem. The fee was devised as part of MTA’s 2003 Short Range Transportation Plan, in order to adhere to Proposition 111. This measure from 1990 requires that a congestion management program (CMP) be developed, adopted and updated biennially for every county that includes an urbanized area. The concept of a congestion mitigation fee originated because Metro estimates that L.A. County will add two million more residents by 2030, 257,000 new homes, 382 million square feet of new retail, office, industrial or other non-residential development, and almost 9 million new auto trips on its highways. The actual fee amount has not been finalized, but current talks indicate a congestion mitigation fee could be implemented countywide at the rate of $2,814 per residential unit, $4.37 per square foot of retail and $2.15 per square foot of industrial space. Metro has delayed sending the fee to committee in part because of the vocal opposition from pro-development groups. The Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) has repeatedly fought against business-unfriendly fees and taxes that lack justification or a reliable yield. In its current form, the mitigation fee is extraneous and has not appeared to evolve in the 10 years since the idea of a congestion mitigation fee originated. The business community is concerned that the current framework for a congestion mitigation fee is significantly out of step with today’s transportation and economic landscape. Since Metro staff began its work on a proposed CMF a decade ago, much has changed on the local and state level relating to transportation access, land-use coordination, climate change and myriad additional economic, environmental and social issues. This fee approach was conceived prior to voter approval of Measure R’s $40 billion in taxation and at a time when fees and regulations affecting business were far less prevalent. L.A. County now has three transportation sales taxes, as well as myriad other dedicated and general taxes. This proposal amounts to an additional $2.4 billion, 20-year cost to the business community. Beyond the massive fees, this CMF proposal does not reflect a regional approach to congestion mitigation. The CMP is designed to allow each of L.A. County’s cities to write their own ordinances and choose their own mitigation projects. But many of the projects offered up across the county do nothing to improve our congestion issues. For instance, a full third of the projects submitted by the city of Los Angeles involve adding or improving bike lanes and adding or improving pedestrian walkways in the city. The city has installed 123 miles of new bikeways since 2010 and it has not contributed substantially to decreasing traffic. Many city officials believe improving conditions for bike riders and pedestrians is a worthy cause, but it is not a task for a congestion mitigation plan. Efforts like the recent move to synchronize 4,500 traffic signals have a more direct impact on congestion. Even if the county’s cities create a true congestion mitigation to-do list for their region, there is no guarantee that the revenue from the mitigation fees would be effectively spent. The San Fernando Valley has 1.8 million residents and would likely be home to much of the development that would be paying these fees. But it is highly unlikely that the revenue would be allocated proportionately. As we learned with Measure R, while the entire county is paying for the projects, the benefiting developments were heavily clustered around downtown Los Angeles – which is why voters in north L.A. County and part of the Valley voted against extending Measure R through last year’s Measure J. L.A. County’s transportation structure is fraught with problems. But the concerns must be resolved through a more holistic approach that takes into account updated strategic planning efforts and funded in a manner less detrimental to our county’s job creators. The Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) is a business advocacy organization based in Sherman Oaks that represents employers throughout the Los Angeles County region at the local, state and federal levels of government.

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