Promises Made, Promises Kept—Ride Expo!


The build-out of LA’s transit system has been and will continue to be a long and complicated process that takes many twists and turns along the way. But Metro has been delivering on its promises with a rainbow of rail lines—Blue, Red, Green, Gold, Orange, Silver, Expo, and soon Crenshaw and the Regional Connector—and the grand opening of Expo to the beach today is another compelling milestone.
But the best is yet to come if Metro decides to go to the ballot with the proposed sales tax in November. Sales tax measures are increasingly acknowledged across the U.S. as one of the only ways to ensure access to the significant resources needed to build local infrastructure, but no other region has been as ambitious in scope as big, densely populated LA County!
Metro's proposed 40-year half-cent sales tax would raise $120 billion to invest in more rail lines, to expand bus service and keep fares low (Metro’s are the lowest of any big city operator), provide better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, discounted transit passes, road repairs, etc. — and all the other programs that keep the transportation system and the economy it supports moving.
But it’s very important that we continue the conversation about whether this is the best expenditure plan or whether important pieces are missing. Join several hundred citizens of this great county as well as agency staff and elected officials at Move LA’s 8th Annual Transportation Conversation on MONDAY, May 23, at the LA Cathedral Conference Center and add your voice to the conversation. REGISTER HERE.
And if you want to read Move LA’s history with the Expo Line, beginning with a campaign to save a little-known right-of-way back in 1989 when the Expo Line was just a sparkle in the eyes of Denny Zane, Darrell Clarke and some other folks that you may know, read Denny Zane's tale below. It all began one Tuesday night at a Santa Monica City Council meeting . . .


In 1989 Russ Davies from Pacific Palisades came to the Santa Monica City Council one Tuesday night to urge us to approach the LA County Transportation Commission (one of LA Metro’s predecessor agencies) to acquire the Exposition Blvd rail corridor. It seems that Southern Pacific RR had decided to put the corridor on the market and Russ saw the legal notice in the paper. 

I was mayor at the time, so when the City Council agreed and decided to mount a "grassroots campaign" to convince the LA County Transportation Commission (now LA Metro) to take action. We had high hopes at that time because a Santa Monica Council colleague, Christine Reed, was a member of the LACTC Board and could be our champion. 

We mounted an “astroturf” campaign under the banner "Committee to Preserve the Right-of-Way." A Santa Monica neighborhood guy named Darrell Clarke responded to an article in the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and came to one of our first meetings and joined the ultimately successful effort: The LACTC bought the corridor and our opportunity for a light rail line connecting Santa Monica to Downtown LA was created. 

We expected immediate success. Chris Reed was in line to be the LACTC Chair and could move the Expo light rail line into a priority position. The City of Santa Monica even bought the Bergamot Station property to serve as the site of a maintenance facility, a move we knew would help our project in the priority queue. We probably would have gotten the line built much earlier than May, 2016—but the Fates intervened. 

Chris Reed was defeated for re-election in 1990. When we lost her place on what became the Metro Board the Expo Line lost its place at the front of the queue. The Gold Line became the priority project. 

But community members Darrell Clarke, Russ Davies and Alan Fishel would not give up, and became the volunteer advocacy and marketing arm for the project through the planning period in the early ‘90s. Then, in 1998, voter approval of Zev Yaroslavsky’s Measure A brought an end to local funding for L.A. subway construction and put light rail back on the table for the Westside.

Darrell, Kathy Seal and others formed Friends 4 Expo in 2000 to make a big push to get Metro’s approval of Phase 1 of the light rail project from Downtown LA to Culver City. Then Pam O’Connor joined the Santa Monica Council in 1994 and the Metro Board in 2001, and she and Darrell and Friends 4 Expo were able to resuscitate interest in the Expo project at Metro.

Demonstrating that successful politics in a democracy requires more than an inside game, Friends 4 Expo worked the outside game expertly, rallying testimony regularly to urge the Metro board to find a way. With support from Metro board members Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, they re-jiggered the Metro bonding policy from Prop A (1980) and Prop C (1990) funds and got the money together to pay for building Exposition LRT Phase 1 from DTLA to Culver City. 

Santa Monica owes Darrell Clarke and Pam O’Connor a great deal for that successful effort. But the section of Expo LRT from Culver City to Santa Monica would wait until Measure R was approved by LA County voters in 2008.

Measure R was a product of an organizing effort that started in 2006. The catalysts were gridlock on Olympic Blvd and a radio story about how LA Metro had no money for any new projects for the next 30 years. We were already at gridlock, it seemed, the population was expected to grow by three million people over 30 years, and this was it—we weren't building a bigger transportation system. This seemed a prescription for a world of hurt and decline.

I began meeting with Environment Now Executive Director Terry O'Day and staff member Diane Forte at the Snug Harbor diner on Wilshire Boulevard in 2006, and began discussing organizing support for LA’s new Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had made transit development an important part of his campaign. 

Environment Now provided the initial funding for the effort, which allowed me to put most of my energy into an organizing effort. But Terry and Diane were more than a source of foundation funding, they were personally invested. We began by convening members of LA County’s business, labor and environmental communities, and pitched them the idea that we needed to find a way to get Metro to go to the ballot because the only way to get enough money to matter required voter approval.

This effort crescendoed in January 2008 at a conference we convened at the LA Cathedral in Downtown LA entitled “It’s Time to Move LA."  In the course of the proceedings we made the case for a sales tax measure to be placed on the ballot in November 2008 to coincide with the high turnout presidential election. 

We were apparently convincing, the process for Measure R began, and Move LA was founded. Marlene Grossman, now Move LA Leadership Board president, and Jamie McCormick joined the effort.  Here are the key steps as I remember it:
•    Immediately after the Move LA Conference, Assemblyman Mike Feuer went back to Sacramento and introduced a bill to authorize LA Metro to go to the ballot for a 30-year half-cent sales tax. After much Sacramento drama, it succeeded.
•    Pam O’Connor became the Metro chair at their very next meeting and made a motion to direct Metro staff to start to prepare a ballot measure.
•    President Chui Tsang at Santa Monica College agreed to put up funding to Move LA for polling since the college was very eager to see Expo LRT built to enhance student transit access to the college. That poll came back with 69% "Yes." 
•    Shortly, Metro did a separate poll: 71% Yes. Then, Mayor Villaraigosa did his own poll: 73% Yes. These results confirmed the Metro board’s interest.
•    Mayor Villarsaigosa, Zev Yaroslavsky, Richard Katz, Pam O’Connor became the cornerstone votes on the Metro Board and Villaraigosa deputy Jaime De La Vega did the heavy lifting to develop Measure R as it was finally submitted to voters, including the funding to complete the Expo Light Rail Line from Culver City to Santa Monica.

Thereafter, Move LA convened regular meetings with the key constituencies—business, labor, and environmentalists—and Richard Katz and Jaime De La Vega would come to brief everyone on the state of the discussion at Metro as we would try to get agreement and ultimately unite behind a measure.

Somehow it worked, and Measure R went to the ballot. Mayor Villaraigosa raised most of the money for the Measure R campaign though Supervisor Yaroslavsky was a major help in that effort.

The rest is history: As you know, Measure R received 67.9% of the vote and was approved. And Exposition from Culver City to Santa Monica was funded—along with a whole lot of other transit projects—and on May 20, 2016, LA County opened its first rail transit line from Downtown LA to the beach since the 1950s!

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