The Source ponders Measure J's loss at the polls

Everyone loves to analyze elections — before they happen, while they're happening and the morning after. I'm no different.

In 2008, I covered Measure R for the Los Angeles Times from the outside looking in. In 2012, I'm working for Metro and watched the Measure J election from the inside looking out.

So I have some perspective. And I have a few thoughts on the results:

•While there may be no moral victories when it comes to elections, it's nice to see 64.7 percent of the voters supporting an accelerated transportation program in Los Angeles County. Putting aside the particular merits of J, it's clear that a solid majority of voters in L.A. County want a different transportation future.

It's also obvious that many elected officials and propositions around the country are today celebrating victories earned with substantially less percentage of the vote than J received. That's the issue with the super-majorities required by Prop 13 — they're hard to achieve. Is that appropriate or does that just create logjams?

•In my own view, significantly lower turnout was among the most significant factors impacting J. Measure R was put on the ballot in Nov. 2008 because it was expected to be a high-turnout election, particularly with Barack Obama on the ballot. The bet among Measure R supporters was that there would be significant overlap between support for Obama and support for Measure R.

They were right — R passed with 67.9 percent of the vote. In 2012, interest in the presidential election wasn't so great (two year campaigns are soul crushing) and about 889,000 fewer people voted in the Measure J election than in the Measure R election. The great unanswered question — at least as of this morning — is whether people stayed home from the parts of the county where interest in mass transit is the heaviest. I suspect they did.

•Measure R contained a long list of new projects to be funded both on the transit and highway side. Measure J did not — it simply proposed accelerating Measure R projects that otherwise wouldn't be completed until the late 2020s or the 2030s.

New projects get people excited; older projects not so much. Also, several of the Measure R projects have yet to be defined in the planning process at Metro, another challenge to the campaign. It's hard to sell something when you don't know yet exactly what that something will be. Prime example: the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, an ultra-important project for many residents of the San Fernando Valley.

•Perhaps more so than in 2008, Metro was limited in the amount of advocacy it could do on behalf of Measure J — a request made explicitly by the Metro Board.

•I'm not in the political campaign business and I'm not comfortable second-guessing the work of those who are. I do think the Measure J results, however, should inspire a conversation about whether it's best in campaigns to speak generically about transportation improvements or whether it's best to be specific and talk about individual projects.

Prime Example #2: The Westside Subway Extension is by far the largest and costliest of the Measure R projects. But it was barely mentioned in the campaigns for Measure R and Measure J. Should it have been? Or would that have hurt the campaign in other parts of Los Angeles County?

•I think it's important for everyone to understand the unusual situation triggered by the loss of Measure J. First, some background: Measure J was designed to take advantage of an expanded federal loan program called TIFIA that offers low-interest, long-term loans. The TIFIA program was greatly expanded in the last transportation bill thanks to the considerable efforts of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Metro Board of Directors and transit supporters in Congress such as Sen. Barbara Boxer.

A typical TIFIA loan lasts for 30 to 35 years. Measure J was needed so that there would be revenue to pay back those loans after Measure R expires in 2039.

So Metro is now in the unusual position of having helped create a great federal loan program that it can't fully exploit. And there's another factor in play: the expanded TIFIA program is part of a transportation bill that will expire in 2014. Metro and many other transit agencies are going to want that program continued — a decision that's ultimately up to Congress and President Obama.

That will almost certainly require a big push from local officials, including the next mayor of the nation's second-largest city, Los Angeles. I hope between now and early March, voters in L.A. ask the mayoral candidates whether they're up for such a challenge as the next mayor will also have considerable sway on the Metro Board of Directors.

Putting aside the particular issue of Measure J, the broader issue remains: the vast majority of Americans live in cities, they need to get to work and dollars to build transit projects in our lifetime remain in very short supply. Solving that problem will take a lot of heavy lifting by elected officials and public alike.

How did you vote on Measure J Why? And what factors do you think played into its loss at the polls? Comment please!