MEASURE R AND LA’S BUSINESS-LABOR-ENVIRO-COMMUNITY COALITION
Move LA built the powerful business-labor-environmental coalition that worked with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LA Metro to get the Measure R half-cent sales tax for transportation on the ballot in 2008 and ensure its passage. Because of Measure R Los Angeles has embarked on this country’s most ambitious transit expansion — a virtual doubling of the size of LA County’s fixed-guideway transit system from 120 miles and 103 stations to 236 miles and 200 stations. (“Fixed-guideway” refers to transit projects using exclusive rights-of-way or rails.) This coalition has grown to include civic and public health interests and community groups, as well as state and local elected officials and regional agency leadership, who come together annually at this transportation conversation.
TRAFFIC & AND LA’S BIG ORGANIZING CHALLENGE
Dissatisfaction with traffic was peaking in 2007 — especially on the Westside, which was immobilized by gridlock around the 405 — when LA Metro announced that, apart from the few transit projects already approved, it had no new money for additional projects over the next 30 years. Metro made a compelling case that LA County was not getting its fair share of federal transportation funding — a funding program that was running at a deficit anyway — even as other regions were moving forward with robust transit expansion programs, including Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Dallas, and even Houston. But organizing stakeholders in big, populous, diverse and disaggregated LA County around an initiative to address this problem was a daunting task seemingly beyond the capability of any one organization, agency or individual.
THE FIRST TRANSPORTATION CONVERSATION IN 2008
Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane recognized the opportunity created by the commitment of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, then in his first term, to building a transit system. In January 2008, with the help of the Annenberg Foundation, Zane convened a “transportation conversation” with major stakeholders, including business, labor, and environmental leaders, agency leadership, elected officials, a pollster and a political consultant. This was the first convening of Move LA and what would prove to be a powerful coalition of interests, and it was decided on that fateful day to mount a campaign to get a county sales tax measure on the ballot that November, in a presidential election year, and to use that sales tax to leverage federal support to build out a robust transit system.
THE MAYOR’S LEGACY
The Mayor proved an energetic and skillful champion, and this coalition succeeded in passing the 30-year Measure R sales tax to provide $25 billion for public transit — even as the Great Recession came howling down upon the nation. Mayor Villaraigosa then began working with the Obama Administration, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congress to secure funding and to create an ambitious new low-interest loan program, which was adopted last summer, that is the largest transportation infrastructure financing fund in the history of the U.S. Department of Transportation. We are working now to build support for the America Fast Forward tax-credit bond program. And the mayor has created the Transit Corridors Cabinet to leverage the Measure R investment by investing in walkable, bikeable neighborhoods along transit lines.
VOTERS AGAIN ENDORSE A TRANSIT REVOLUTION
Measure R construction is in full swing: Last year LA Metro opened the Expo Line to Culver City and the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth, construction began on Expo to Santa Monica and continued on the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line to Azusa, utilities are being relocated so construction can begin on the Westside Subway and the Regional Connector, and Metro is showing off station designs for the Green Line extension to LAX and options for the Sepulveda corridor. Buoyed by this momentum this business-labor-environmental coalition went back to voters in November 2012 to extend Measure R and enable Metro to use the longer revenue stream to secure financing and accelerate construction — at a time when interest rates and construction costs are at historic lows. Measure J won an overwhelming 66.1% of the vote, proving voters enthusiastically support this transit revolution, but failed to pass because of a ‘technicality’ — only in California do such measures require 2/3 voter approval to become law.
GROWING THE COALITION INTO UNA GRAN FUERZA
Denny Zane created the nonprofit Move LA to convene a coalition that could move LA County forward, creating a board with representation from all these constituencies and working closely with the Mayor and LA Metro. Through regular stakeholder meetings and outreach Move LA has continually broadened our constituencies and influence — through lobbying, organizing, building bridges, advocating for the “ambitiously possible” — and has worked with our partners to push Congress to the successful outcomes described above. We also began further broadening our work at home to support the Measure R investment with neighborhoods that support high transit ridership with affordable housing and first-mile/last-mile connections, and to build support for investments in commuter and high-speed rail across the entire Southern California region, thereby enhancing equity, public health and environmental outcomes.
MOVE LA’S REGIONAL TRANSIT ADVOCACY
In 2010, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) began to work on its regional transportation plan and first sustainable communities strategy (mandated by SB 375 to reduce GHG emissions), providing us with an opportunity to work with regional government. We were able to leverage our existing coalition with new partnerships around air quality, public health, equity, bike and pedestrian projects, and smart growth. The time was right for these kinds of collaborations, and this broader coalition has enabled us to push forward on many fronts. We scored a major success with SCAG, described below, which has also opened opportunities for us to work with state government.
WE HAVE BROADENED OUR ROLE
The successes of our campaigns and the interests of our ever-growing coalition has caused us to broaden and redefine our role and our mission: We are now working with government at all levels to advocate for the funding, financing and policy tools that local and state governments need to solve today’s pressing problems around transportation and equity. Perhaps because of Denny Zane’s 30-year career as an local elected official, community organizer and political consultant, Move LA has proved adept at playing both the inside and the outside political game, successfully integrating the concerns of advocates into strategies that we know we can move forward because they are “ambitiously possible.” We work within the opportunities and constraints faced by government but where possible we seek to expand the boundaries of opportunity or remove the constraints.
STILL IN THE GAME TO ACCELERATE TRANSIT CONSTRUCTION
One clear measure of Move LA’s success is that the Measure R campaign secured $25 billion for transit capital and operations, an investment expected to result in 400,000 good jobs and a major boost to the local and regional economy. The recent Measure J campaign to extend the Measure R sales tax lost on a “technicality” with 66.1% of the vote — it would have been a landslide victory anywhere but in California, which requires a two-thirds majority. Fortunately, Measure J was always “Plan B” for accelerating transit construction. Plan A was a combination of the TIFIA loan program that Congress adopted (referenced above) and a new tax-credit bond program that we will work on with Congress this year.
THE TRANSIT MILESTONES OF 2012
• Measure J got 66.1% of the vote, proving once again LA County very much wants a robust transit system. Working- and middle-class communities voted overwhelmingly to extend the Measure R sales tax, which still failed to get the required 2/3 vote. But J’s defeat could turn into an even greater victory if it provides the momentum to reduce the voter threshold from a 2/3 majority — an anti-democratic requirement that makes every “no” vote worth twice as much as a “yes” vote — to 55%.
• Angelenos will get good jobs and training building LA County’s transit system. LA Metro unanimously adopted a Project Labor Agreement proposed by the LA/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, and a Construction Careers Policy proposed by the LA County Federation of Labor and Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). These policies will make tens of thousands of good jobs available to people struggling in low-income communities. Metro is the first US transit agency to win federal approval for a PLA with targeted hiring goals for federally funded projects.
• The Westside gets its first rail line since the Pacific Red Cars. In June, LA Metro opened Expo from downtown LA to Culver City, making it possible to travel to USC football games, check out the Endeavor, visit the Staples Center and Nokia, or celebrate New Year’s in Los Angeles — without driving.
• The San Fernando Valley gets more Orange Line. Metro’s highly successful bus rapid transit line was extended to the Chatsworth Metrolink station in June, on time, on budget, and connecting to Warner Center and the Red Line in North Hollywood.
• The transit expansion program is getting into full swing. Measure R funded lines now underway include Expo to Santa Monica, the Foothill Gold Line to Azusa and the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor. Metro is even showing off station designs for LAX. Utility relocations have begun for the Regional Connector downtown and the Westside Subway.
• Congress passes the America Fast Forward loan program proposed by Metro and LA Mayor Villaraigosa. Passage of the $1.7B TIFIA loan program — up from $120M and the biggest transportation infrastructure financing fund in USDOT history — was a big victory. Metro and the mayor are now back in Washington D.C. to secure passage of America Fast Forward Bonds, which, together with the TIFIA loan program, were “Plan A” for accelerating Measure R-funded transportation projects. (Measure J was “Plan B.”)
• Metrolink gets $1 billion for upgrades from CA High Speed Rail Authority. The state Senate approved the release of nearly $1 billion in high-speed rail funds to increase the connectivity, speed, capacity and safety of Metrolink. The goal is to upgrade some commuter rail corridors to become part of the statewide high-speed rail system.
• Rail ridership is up 12% in LA County as of September 2012 over 2011, for an average weekday ridership of 357,096. Bus ridership held steady at 1. million.
• Regional Council unanimously approves plan hailed as visionary, and positioning SoCal as the nation’s “next environmental success story.” The Southern California Association of Governments 93-member council approved a Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy that promises to reduce per person traffic delay by 24% by locating 87% of jobs and 82% of housing within walking distance of transit. A motion drafted by Move LA and its coalition partners emphasized further development of regional transit, pedestrian and bike projects.
• LA showed off at the national Railvolution conference at the Loew’s Hotel atop the Hollywood/Highland Red Line subway station. Metro hosted the premier national conference on “building livable communities” around transit in October. More than 1,000 people listened to LA County Supervisor Antonovich and LA Mayor Villaraigosa offer conflicting views on expanding local transit, and then heard Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane bring it all home with a rousing keynote address about our transit vision.
• LA’s love affair with bikes blossoms! CicLAvia staged its fifth event since 2010, this year with 100,000 walkers and bikers on an extended 9-mile route of closed-down streets. Mayor Villaraigosa took the opportunity to announce LA would soon have a bike-sharing program with 4,000 bikes at 400 kiosks around the city. And the LADOT implemented 76 miles of the city’s bike plan, far outpacing any year on record.
• Cap and Trade will fund good stuff. AB 32 set the framework for the California Legislature’s Cap and Trade program to reduce GHG emissions, and while negotiations are still underway on what exactly will be funded with cap and trade revenues, projects are likely to include equitable development near transit, bike/ped projects, transit operations, and discounted transit passes for residents, employees and students in transit priority zones.
• The bottom falls out of affordable housing construction across the state as the post-redevelopment era begins. But new ideas have materialized to re-employ tax increment financing around transit stations and to help implement SB 375 projects. Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg plans to reintroduce his SB 1156 as SB 1, which would re-focus redevelopment in transit priority zones.
• Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa creates a Transit Corridors Cabinet. The cabinet includes eight city departments with the express goal of focusing investment in transit corridors. The cabinet is less focused on development or density, however, than on providing residents and workers with more choices and more opportunities as elemental as making it easier to walk or bike to a business lunch, yoga class, or job at a local business.