Sizing up the June 2014 Election Candidates for Supervisorial District 3

Heading to the polls on June 3rd to elect local leaders? If not, you should be! On the ballot are candidates for several key Los Angeles County races, including Board of Supervisors (districts 1 & 3) and Los Angeles County Sheriff. Here we want to take a brief look at the 3rd district Board of Supervisors candidates by focusing on their responses to Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s candidate questionnaire.

Why take an interest in local elections? The county oversees critical public services like education, health care and law enforcement, after all, and it plays a significant role in crafting transportation policies. Anybody interested in safe cycling needs to pay attention. Perhaps most importantly because this body, called the “least democratic system of representation” in the United States (each of the five Supervisors represents two million county constituents), plays a key role in setting Metro priorities.

(Moreover, the courts have recently lifted the veil on longtime malfeasance and perhaps criminal activities in the Sheriff’s office under Lee Baca. If our representatives on the Board aren’t asking the right questions, then we won’t be able to ensure that county law enforcement itself respects the law.)

The candidates’ responses to the questionnaire are particularly helpful to informed voters looking beyond feel-good websites, glossy campaign mailers, and those damned robocalls. In fact, none of those communications says much at at all about mobility problems or policy. Thankfully LACBC has done much of the work for us!

Concerned about bicycle facilities? Wondering how each candidate feels about dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School? We’ve digested their answers to the policy questions over at our 2014 campaign page in an at-a-glance matrix to make comparisons across the candidates easy. But we encourage you to review what candidates had to say in full. So visit LACBC’s Bike the Vote: Resources for June 3rd Los Angeles County elections page for the full Monty, or download our handy full-text matrix. On to the policy questions!

Policy Specific Responses

Q2: In 2012, the County of Los Angeles adopted a Bicycle Master Plan proposing 831 miles of new bikeways due to be completed by 2032. What would you do to ensure that implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan projects continues during your term? How many miles of new bicycle facilities will you commit to implementing each year in your district?

Candidates Kuehl, Duran and Shriver each committed to the identified benchmark, which is a relatively conservative position.Front-runners don’t need to go out on a limb. Melendez was a bit more vague about their commitment and pledging “as many new paths and restroom facilities as necessary.” Candidates Fay And Ulich upped the ante: Fay wants to see 100 miles per year implemented while Ulich wants to complete the plan’s target mileage by 2020 (or “as many miles as is possible every year”).

Q3: Do you support adopting the Model Design Manual for Living Streets produced by the County Department of Public Health but not yet adopted by Public Works?

Candidates Fay, Melendez, Ulich and Kuehl all pledged to support adoption by the county of the Model Design Manual for Living Streets. But Kuehl added a key caveat – one that may be a deal-breaker to road diet and bicycle lane proponents: “so long as it didn’t reduce the total number of lanes available to vehicles.” But there is a contradiction here: the manual adopts as a guiding philosophy the shifting of travel to other modes. The ‘living streets’ approach sees “mobility is a means, not an end.”

It emphasizes place over throughput, for example, with traffic calming one option to create inviting environments. It also encourages “healthy lifestyles” by prioritizing walking, bicycling, and transit in part through streets designed for all modes. By changing how we plan for mobility, we could prompt people “to drive less” the manual says. (From chapter 2 ‘Vision, Goals, Policies, and Benchmarks’ and chapter 3, ‘Street Networks and Classifications.’)

Candidates Duran and Shriver, however, did not substantively address the question about adoption of the Model Design Manual. (Perhaps they weren’t sufficiently familiar to comment.)

Q4: Would you support the implementation of protected bikeways, and can you suggest any areas in your district where such facilities should be built?

All of the candidates support protected bikeways (what’s not to like about the modifier ‘protected’?). But Kuehl again added, “so long as it doesn’t reduce the total number of lanes available to cars.” We would file that response under ‘motorists come first on public streets.’ And Melendez didn’t offer a blanket thumbs-up. Instead he focused his response on identifying specific areas like Griffith Park, Sepulveda and Cahuenga passes and segments of Pacific Coast Highway. (Credit where it’s due: he was the only respondent to actually suggest any.)

Of course the right answer is “Yes! Wherever we put a class II bicycle lane is an opportunity to make that lane a ‘protected’ or separate facility.”

Q5: Do you support allocating at least 3% of transit capital budgets to first & last mile improvements for each new line?

Funding is key, right? Nailing down a dedicated proportion of transit funding for bike-ped projects is crucial. How do the candidates respond? Here Duran, Melendez, Shriver and Ulich are unequivocal: all support 3% or more in dedicated funding. Fay and Kuehl hedge. “I support ensuring Metro does include alternate transportation facilities in their planning process,” said Fay, while Kuehl refrains from nailing down a number (“I would support allocating money to the First & Last Mile Strategic Plan.”)

Seems like Metro is already out front of candidate Melendez with their draft First Last Mile Strategic Plan Guidelines. And in that draft plan, Metro helpfully notes “numerous competing demands on public funds throughout the county.” All the more reason to dedicate a fixed percentage, right?

Q6: Do you support dedicated funding for a countywide Safe Routes to School program?

This is a giveaway. Five candidates are unequivocal: they support the goal and Metro’s countywide Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan (in progress). Shriver is a less committal as far as the plan goes. “I support a coordinated County effort to win more Safe Routes to School funding,” he says. Ulich gives the nod to the money (“I will absolutely dedicate funding to the Safe Routes to School program”) but leaves open her view on the plan.

Q7: Do you support dedicating at least 12% of any future sales tax measures for walking and biking?

This is where we separate the doers and talkers! The question notes that Metro allocates only 1% of funding bike-ped facilities and the three voter-approved sales tax measures dedicate exactly zero percent of the hike for bike-ped needs. Would the candidates do better? Better as in a 12% dedication?

Melendez and Ulich (notably not the front-runners) both are unequivocal supporters at the 12% level. Candidates Duran, Fay and Kuehl won’t go that far, however, and none would identify a percentage. (One senses that they’re backing out of the room at the question.) But Shriver does identify MoveLA’s 4% proposal as a feasible level of dedicated considering. As the question points out, 19% of all trips are made on foot or by bike but of those killed on county streets, double that proportion (39%) were people walking or biking.

Q8: Will you provide annual transit passes to all County employees and provide secure bicycle parking for both employees and visitors at County buildings?

The question gets at the inequity of policy and public- and private-sector practices that accord reduced-price parking or tax benefits to those who drive, while just recently eliminating a federal benefit for using alternate forms of transit. The pass seems like good policy and the parking a token giveaway for the less-than-one-percent who bike commute. How do they respond?

Five candidates are on board with both free or discounted transit passes for county employees AND give the nod to secure bike parking. Here Duran is the odd man out. “I do not know if I would support providing an annual transit passes unless we could adequately safeguard against fraudulent misuse of the passes.” Instead Duran suggests “creative solutions” and/or “additional incentives” to encourage other modes of transit to work at county facilities.

Responses: General Impressions

Here we summarize their responses to two more general questions (abbreviated here): Share a memory involving a bicycle that has had a lasting effect on you; and what else you would like to say to Los Angeles County’s millions of bicyclists?

Bobby Shriver
Bobby Shriver

Share a memory.

Bobby Shriver said in his response that he was recently thrilled to participate in his first CicLAvia. “I felt like I was seeing those neighborhoods for the first time through a new lens and it was invigorating,” he said. “Community is important and the road belongs to all of us.”

John Duran
John Duran

John Duran, a veteran of the annual Aids Life Cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in his response replied (in part) “I am an avid cyclist in excellent shape and can bring my experiences on a bike to the county hall of administration.” (That would indeed be a change!).

Doug Fay
Doug Fay

Other candidates reached back to childhood, where many of us first cemented our love of the bike. Doug Fay in his response recalled his summer of ’79. “My adventurous friend Darell Slotton and I decided we were going to ride our 10 speed bicycles from Venice Beach up the Pacific Coast Highway to the Ventura County Line and back. Wearing t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, we left early and made it home before dark.” (Don’t try it today without body armor, fellas.)

Sheila Kuehl
Sheila Kuehl

Sheila Kuehl recalled in her response a very different neighborhood milieu, though. “When I was about ten, my little sister and I were playing outside of our house near the Coliseum…Some neighborhood kids came up to us and took off with my little sister’s tricycle,” she said. “I couldn’t let them get away with that so I pedaled furiously after them, like a posse after a bandit, caught up and grabbed it back. I felt like a real big sister and thought of that Schwinn as a horse for a hero.”

Rudy Melendez reached back even further in his response. “My earliest memory riding a bike is of my dad jogging behind me having taking the training wheels off my bike I think he wanted to be sure I was going to be okay riding without them.”

Pam Conley Ulich
Pamela Conley Ulich

Likewise candidate Pamela Conley Ulich recalled in her response a similar experience. Only she was in the parent’s shoes. “I will never forget that day when we took off our daughter’s training wheels, 10 or so years ago at our local elementary school parking lot on an early Sunday morning,” the candidate said, and “she fell within seconds the first time she tried to bike…” Once her daughter got the hang of it, however, “she became both independent and in control of her destiny.”

Some riders may empathize with a childhood spill, but Candidate Rudy Melendez’s story of theft and injury recalls more recent painful memories for many, we bet. “I remember very clearly when my bmx bike was stolen and when my beach cruiser was stolen when my 1st fixie was stolen and when my 2nd fixie was stolen,” he said. “But the one memory that may have the most lasting effect is the time I was side swiped by a hit & run driver along the miracle mile on Wilshire….” (Amen.)

Every candidate can relate to riding a bike as a child, or experiencing the good feelings that attend to riding as an adult, and even the occasional trauma. But if elected, can these candidates channel their concerns into support for policies that encourage cycling? Will they take the necessary decisions to make it safer for riders countywide? Let’s turn to their responses to policy questions 2-8 on the LACBC questionnaire.

What would you say to Los Angeles County’s millions of bicyclists?

John Duran waxed poetic. “There is a natural high that occurs when my heart is beating in rhythm with my legs on the open road.” And Rudy Melendez offered practical advice. “If you don’t already own a bike consider getting one because I believe you will find that It will improve your health & lifestyle.”

Sheila Kuehl and two other candidates took the opportunity to stroke LACBC. “We have to drastically reduce our dependence on cars,” Kuehl said, “and it will take leadership, such as yours, to achieve our goals.” Doug Fay too acknowledged the organization. “If elected I will work with others including you, to make bicycle and pedestrian facility maintenance and enhancement a top priority.” Pam Conley Ulich agreed. “By partnering with you, we can create a bike friendly society, reduce our carbon footprint, and live a healthy lifestyle – a win, win, win.”

Bobby Shriver was the most specific in his closing remarks, however:

As County Supervisor, I will use my influence to encourage the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney and the DMV to take a proactive approach to cyclist safety. I will encourage the Sheriff to enforce the 3 foot passing rule and I will encourage the District Attorney to aggressively prosecute hit-and-runs on bicyclists. In addition, the DMV must be encouraged to better incorporate how the CA Vehicle Code pertains to bicyclists in its driver education curriculum.

Or, as Ulich said, “We just need the will to make it happen.” No matter who prevails, though, it will take a determined push from the dais of the Board of Supervisors to change the status quo and work towards that goal of ‘Vision Zero.‘ The LACBC’s candidate questionnaire is a great tool to ensure that you know which candidate best represents your interests.