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Frank Gruber

And if Denny Zane is 60?

By Frank Gruber

Happy New Year!

Political life in Santa Monica slows down over the holidays, and I thought I would, too. I would like to be able to say that having taken two weeks off from column writing, my mind is more clear, but the end of 2007 and the first days of 2008 were so packed with national and international news that my mental attic is more cluttered than ever.

I'll ease into the new year, one that promises to be a big one both nationally and locally, with a few comments on two topics about which there is always something to say -- transit funding and the presidential race.

Something I didn't realize until I read it and which I still have a hard time fathoming is that Denny Zane is 60 years old -- a fact I learned when I read an article that appeared in the downtown L.A. CityBeat about the efforts of Santa Monica's former mayor to identify and tap into funding sources for building the Purple Line Subway (all the way to the Sea, we hope) and other L.A. County transportation projects.

If Mr. Zane is 60, that must mean that the sixties must have reached their cultural climax around 40 years ago. Is that possible?

Well, not in Mr. Zane's head anyway. There the sixties live, "forever young," which is great, because if Mr. Zane still has enough energy and ambition to try to motivate the public to rise up and demand that their politicians do something serious about solving our transportation problem, that would be good, even if there will be more conferences than street demonstrations. (And if Mr. Zane still has any influence in Sunset Park, perhaps he could use it to persuade residents there that providing bus transportation for students and others is a good thing, too.)

Mr. Zane and a group that includes Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Terry O'Day have called a conference in downtown L.A. on Thursday to discuss local funding options for transportation -- various ideas to use the wealth of L.A. County (and there is a lot of wealth) to invest in infrastructure that will add to both quality of life and economic productivity (i.e., that will create more mobility and more wealth). Mr. Zane and his cohorts are pushing a big county-wide funding measure that would fund a generation's worth of projects, both transit and roads.

But if, as may happen, the whole of L.A. County proves unwilling to see the big picture and pay for it, then I would go even farther, or, rather less far, geographically speaking. If a countywide plan fails, then the Westside cities, including Los Angeles from Mid-Wilshire to West L.A., should consider establishing taxing ourselves and local employers and employees to fund the subway.

The Westside is the densest part of the region, with the second largest concentration of jobs. If it takes raising money locally to put our projects at the head of the funding line, then so be it.

One way to raise funds and to discourage driving at the same time is to raise taxes on parking and use the money to pay for transit bonds. A lot of people promote complicated plans to charge drivers -- "congestion pricing," for example, or charging tolls to use carpool lanes. But the simplest way to tax driving, especially by commuters, is to tax parking (and raise the rates at public parking structures).

The Westside could also enact a property tax assessment district. The real estate on the Westside is among the most valuable in the world and will become more valuable with better transit. Because of Prop. 13, however, much of the Westside's property-based wealth, especially commercial properties that change hands infrequently, is under-assessed.

Commercial properties will especially benefit from better mobility, a fact that is known and appreciated by commercial property owners. If the whole county fails to come through with funding for the subway, we should find a way to tax local properties to build the transportation system those who live, work, and own property here want.

* * *

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I am supporting Barack Obama instead of the other strong candidates in the Democratic field for president. ( see column) As an Obamite imbued with Obamagic just this side of Obamania I was darn happy last week after he won the Iowa caucuses.

But I was also happy after Iowa because of the situation involving the Republicans, a political party I don't write so often about.

And I especially don't often write about them when I have something nice to say. But I am happy to report that sanity (of a sort-I won't get carried away) has returned to the Republicans (or at least some of them): John McCain not only is rising in the polls, but also has become a smart money favorite.

It's not like I would ever vote for McCain myself; I disagree with him too much, and the past six years of his groveling before the right wing of his party have been just too revolting. Anyone, however, with any love of country must be happy at the prospect that if McCain revives his campaign and wins the nomination, none of Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson or Mike Huckabee will be president no matter what calamity might befall the Democratic nominee. (This analysis leaves Ron Paul out of the equation on the grounds that no one who is against the Iraq War and believes the federal government has no role to play in drug enforcement will ever be the Republican nominee.)

Some Democrats are concerned that if McCain is the nominee, he'd be more difficult to defeat, inasmuch as in preliminary head-to-head polling he does better against the Democratic candidates. But consider this: at least if McCain is the Republican nominee, you know that the right wing won't be able to attack the Democratic candidate for being "soft" on immigration or -- and it pains me even to consider that it could be a political issue in America -- torture.

Or look at it this way: if McCain is the nominee, at least we and the world will be saved the spectacle next October of watching the candidates for President of the United States of America debate just how much torture and which techniques are all right to apply against "Islamo-Fascists."

Meeting notice:

If you are interested in attending the "It's Time to Move L.A." conference, here are the details:

Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008, 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The Center at Cathedral Plaza
555 West Temple St., Los Angeles
$25 registration fee
Contact: 310-582-0093

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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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