The Promise of Measure R Becomes a Reality in 2023

This Friday at Noon, Metro will have a new map, open 3 new Downtown LA stations, and boast the longest light rail line in the entire world at 49.5 miles running from Azusa to Long Beach. The most important milestone on Friday will be the fulfillment of a major campaign promise from the 2008 “Yes on Measure R” Campaign—connecting the enormous region of LA County with one seamless transit system.


How do we know? It was Denny Zane, Move LA’s founder, who successfully pulled together a coalition of environmental, labor, and business leaders and partnered with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to build support for Measure R. In early 2008, Metro published a draft of its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which included a list of rail, bus, highway, and other transportation improvements and expansions, including the Regional Connector, which had been envisioned as early as 1984. However, none of these projects had funding.

Mayor (ret.) Antonio Villaraigosa and Denny Zane at Move LA's Conference

Zane, a former Mayor of Santa Monica and an environmental and affordable housing advocate was stuck in impossible traffic on Olympic Blvd in 2007.  He lamented what looked to be a worsening future for the region, but then reminded himself that the City of Los Angeles had recently elected Antonio Villaraigosa as its Mayor.  Zane had worked with Villaraigosa when he was Speaker of the California State Assembly on the Carl Moyer Program, a clean air program to facilitate the development of clean alternatives to diesel-powered trucks.  Zane knew the new mayor was a devoted yet pragmatic environmentalist with an aspirational agenda for the region’s transit system.  What Antonio would need to realize this vision would be very significant new funding, the scale and reliability of funding that only a ballot measure could provide. Making a successful ballot measure campaign possible would require a smartly organized and broad-based coalition. At that moment, organizing such a coalition became Zane’s mission.

A report issued by the Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University identified the Imagine Campaign—a public informational campaign run by Metro—as the origin of a mass campaign to fund the proposed fixes in the LRTP. However, it wasn’t until Denny Zane convened 35 organizations representing the diverse leadership of Los Angeles, did the idea of a ballot measure campaign became a reality:

“it is fair to say that without Zane there would not have been a Measure R campaign. Zane’s ability to bring people together and his willingness to take a risk kick started this effort and likely carried it through. Zane’s success in bringing together representatives from the environmental, labor, and business communities, who had never worked together before and literally had never visited each others’ offices, and getting them to agree to collaborate, sent a powerful signal to decision-makers. As a result, elected officials, including the Mayor and Metro board members, realized that tackling the transportation revenue problem in 2008 had legs, which brought to the table not only their support but also their leadership.”

Denny Zane, Assemblymember (ret.) Richard Katz (then a Metro Board member), Senator Maria Elana Durazo (then the LA County Fed President), and Gary Toebben (then President & CEO of the Greater LA Chamber of Commerce)

Move LA was born out of the need to get a two-thirds majority—an incredibly high threshold—which necessitated a broad coalition to appeal to voters throughout the entire county. As Denny recounted for this story written by David Dayen in the American Prospect, he had to “scrounge a $15,000 grant for meeting space and $25,000 for a poll”  to show decision makers what was possible, and the rest was history:

“Move LA's plan proved compelling enough to persuade the Metro board to devise Measure R (for “relief”), which would go before voters on the November 2008 ballot. Metro's board settled on a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase, raising $30 billion to $40 billion for 12 specific rail, subway, and road projects. Zane initially balked at the regressive tax choice, but studies showed that businesses and tourists paid more than half of all sales taxes because of California's many exemptions for necessities.”

It was the promise of a bold vision—one that would reduce traffic by connecting Los Angeles in one seamless system with a Long Beach to Pasadena, or East L.A. to Santa Monica trip without a transfer, a direct connection to the airport, a subway to Westwood—that won over community leaders, elected officials, and voters. Measure R, which provided the major funding for the Regional Connector, passed with 67.9% of the vote in November 2008. And on Friday, June 16, 2023, Angelenos will get a chance to experience the vision of Denny and so many others who worked to make Measure R, and our transit system, a reality.

From @Metrolosangeles -