Move LA’s Executive Director Denny Zane discusses how his organization helped build support and pass Metro’s Measure R. The ballot measure passed in 2008 and has paved the way for transportation revitalization across LA County. Zane gives TPR a look at what the LA congressional delegation is achieving in Washington, the support behind Mike Feuer’s AB 1446, the benefits the public can expect from Measure R, and Move LA’s next moves promoting mobility in Los Angeles.
“You build a coalition locally, and then you have them reach out to their partners or national affiliations, and you build that partnership there.” -Denny Zane
In 2008 the voters passed Measure R, a half-cent sales tax devoted to transportation improvements across Los Angeles County. Move LA played a role in that, and now that plans are largely set and implementation is underway, what have you focused on as the next movement agenda?
After Measure R we focused on how to find financing to accelerate the projects in the Measure R transit program, and I think we drummed up a lot of support for the National Infrastructure Development Bank that was in Congress at the time, authored by Congresswoman Rosa Delauro of Connecticut. When Mayor Villaraigosa and staff went back east and determined that this particular bill wasn’t going anywhere, they crafted what became the 30/10 Initiative, which is more focused on expanding and reforming existing programs at the Department of Transportation.
We worked a lot on that—what became America Fast Forward—and it’s now in the Senate version of the Federal Transportation bill and in the conference committee with the House. I expect a favorable outcome before the election. That will be another victory, another chance to get some share of the financing needed to accelerate these Measure R projects.
We also worked on the SCAG Regional Transportation Plan adopted in April; this was the first time a regional transportation plan had to focus on reducing greenhouse gases as well as regional mobility. It turned out to be an extremely successful effort. It yielded a Regional Transportation Plan that received a unanimous vote from the Regional Council for a very far-reaching and visionary program that really has Measure R projects at its core. So I count that, in part, as a victory for smart land use planning, but it was also a victory for the momentum of Measure R and transit investments.
We are also working on the legislative front to help fund better TOD strategies and to support Mike Feuer’s bill, AB 1446, for the indefinite extension of Measure R. I’ve spent a lot of time working on the Federal Transportation Bill, trying to find a way to get a very divided Congress to unite on this. I think that’s going to ultimately work out, but not without great storm.
Getting metropolitan Los Angeles and our congressional delegation to speak with one voice to meet the needs of mobility in LA has always been a challenge. You’ve done a great job as part of the team to do that. Talk about the conflicts that need to be resolved in our own delegation on these issues and about how you’ve made progress in helping to bring us together.
With the congressional delegation, both geographical and regional divisions exist. That’s really about rivalries over scarce resources. But there are also issues about priorities, as between highway and transit objectives, and the partisan issues between Democrats and Republicans, so it’s a tough divide to bridge. I think in Southern California we’ve done fairly well thus far, though I would certainly love to see more express support from the Republican side of the aisle in our LA County delegation. It’s a tough environment on that side of the House of Representatives. There is a very aggressive faction there that gives everybody trouble.
Still, I think the prospects of the bill coming together are good. The reason it works, I think, is really reflective of the business, labor, and environmental coalition that we built here in LA County before Measure R. When Tom Donohue from the National Chamber of Commerce shows up at a press conference with Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO to tout the America Fast Forward loan program, it’s really because the LA Area Chamber of Commerce and the LA County labor movement have worked together to make that happen. The national success is a function of our local coalition building success. I really have to congratulate Gary Toebben with the LA Chamber—I think the Chamber has been a marvelous partner both locally and nationally on all of these issues. We really found common ground, and they, with the labor movement and the environmental community, have really fostered a very positive working relationship.
Robbie Hunter at the LA-Orange County Building and Construction Trades, and Richard Slawson before him, have been marvelous partners as has, of course, Maria Elena Durazo of the LA County Federation of Labor. The building trades have been very active; they delivered the national building trades as well as the AFL-CIO on a national level. You build a coalition locally, and then you have them reach out to their partners or national affiliations and you build that partnership there. That’s really worked in this case marvelously.
Let’s talk about Mike Feuer’s bill, AB 1446. Is there a growing consensus on the metropolitan transit commission’s Metro board to support this? Or are there holdouts along the same lines of priorities, insurances, and swapping and trading that are getting in the way?
At this stage of the discussion it doesn’t surprise me that individual board members have their objectives for their districts, and they want to make sure that whatever emerges from the discussion about extending Measure R is going to give their district what they think is a fair shake. That’s how representative democracy is supposed to work, so that’s reasonable. I think that discussion will happen, just like it happened with Measure R originally, and we’ll have a big opportunity for regional consensus building here.
Those discussions, though, are really part of the Metro board discussion, not part of the legislation in Sacramento itself. The legislation merely authorizes Metro to go back to voters, to extend the 30-year sunset, and to have the termination of the measure be subject to the will of the voters in the future. We don’t want the legislation in Sacramento to be negotiating the elements of a ballot measure—that’s really for the Metro board members to do.
I think we should be very optimistic about the Measure R extension measure. We can be optimistic that the Metro board will come together on a consensus program, because the upside for our region is just so dramatic and the voter willingness to support it is quite strong. Extensions like this always do better with voters than the original taxes they are extending because they don’t increase the current taxes. But it does create big opportunity for current voters to have all of their projects built earlier. It could also provide enough money to enhance the Measure R transit program by completing some projects that need more funding. My guess is that it will get 75-77 percent support when it’s on the ballot. You only need two thirds, but I think the voters are going to be right there.
Tell us what the benefits would be if Mike Feuer’s Measure R extension were to be put on the ballot and passed by the voters.
Well, the first benefit is that it provides our county with the tools to accelerate the Measure R transit and highway programs without relying on the federal government. Now if the federal government comes through with the expanded TIFIA loan program Mayor Villaraigosa has proposed that was approved in the Senate version of the transportation bill, then that will help a great deal. But it won’t be enough on its own. We will need this Measure R extension even if the Congressional conference committee acts favorably on the expanded loan program.
All of those 12 Measure R transit projects—mostly light rail, one subway, a couple of bus rapid transit lines—all of those could be built in a decade. The highway program could be accelerated as well. Metro would not be constrained by the availability of cash to get those things done. The constraint will be planning and execution, which is just good sense.
The other benefit is that there may be money for program enhancement. Exactly how much is uncertain and over what time frame is unclear. That depends on the state of the economy over the next few decades, the ultimate costs of projects, the interest rates on financing and the like. However, if the sunset on Measure R is lifted by the voters the Metro Board will at some point have new choices to make. A couple of my favorite projects—like extending the Gold Line to the San Bernadino County line or extending the Crenshaw Line to Wilshire - could be up for discussion much sooner than we think; or, taking the Sepulveda Pass system and building it from the Orange Line in the Valley all the way to LAX. As this transit system becomes more robust with better connectivity, it just becomes more useful and more efficient for a larger number of people. Its contribution to our mobility and economic development would just get greater and greater with every new investment
I love your comment that we have a non-partisan coalition for transit in Los Angeles, but we’re still strained to find a non-partisan coalition for infrastructure and transportation at the federal level. Is that true or false?
That’s true among the members of the House of Representatives; it’s not true in the nation. For example, Tom Donohue of the United States Chamber of Commerce and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO are together on this issue. The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill 74-22, with 22 Republican votes. The problem is really division in the House of Representatives, where an ideological faction of the Republican party basically wants to gut the federal transportation program. They say return the money to the states without apparent regard for the severe disruption that would cause to projects all over the country and to millions of jobs.
Let’s take our focus back to the local level and the challenges of building out the opportunities that Measure R gives us, turning to the Beverly Hills battle with Metro on the extension of the Red Line. Can you talk about how these skirmishes affect the overall campaign if they do?
There’s no question that active opposition from communities along proposed rail transit lines can be a hurdle to timely success. Having lawsuits from neighbors in Cheviot Hills certainly creates potential for delay on Exposition. There are other neighbors who had concerns with the first phase of the Exposition Line that required the PUC to review plans. They directed Metro to change some of the planning at important intersections. Opposition is certainly one of the factors affecting how you design a project and how long it takes and how much it costs to complete it.
There was 75 percent support for Measure R in Beverly Hills, so I have no doubt that the community as a whole actually supports the subway. When they say that they’re concerned about tunneling under their high school, I think that is a sincere, but misguided, concern. I think that they are wrong on the merits. The high school tunneling has been reviewed both by Metro consultants and by consultants that Beverly Hills had hired, and the conclusions have been the same: there are no risks of noise or vibration or of disrupting classes, or of anything remotely like explosions or toxic chemicals that a recent video tried to portray. That’s just people’s imaginations running away with them, frankly.
It’s a tough issue, though. Metro has to be and wants to be respectful of the concerns of communities. However, Metro has to treat all communities equally. Thus, when a community raises a meritorious concern, they need to respond. If the concerns being raised are not meritorious, they need to say that. I think that the Beverly Hills objections are simply not meritorious and Metro should respectfully say that and move forward with planning. Beverly Hills might sue, and that can cause delays, but ultimately it should not alter the project.
In Move LA’s strategic plan there’s mention of promoting the inclusion of zero emission public and private transportation alternatives as one of your goals. Can you elaborate on how you fit this in and what you’re hoping will happen?
It was evident to us early on that the Measure R program was going to roll out a lot of electric light rail and subway and a significant amount of natural gas bus rapid transit projects. It was evident that there would be corridors, station area facilities, parking areas, and maintenance facilities that would be created, and that presents a real opportunity to get the energy equation right early. So we promoted an energy policy to the Metro board, thanks to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas who championed it, and it was ultimately approved. We’re looking forward to Metro’s efforts to implement a far-reaching program there.
California is leading the way in transitioning our power system to renewables and clean energy. With Metro doing its share of integrating solar and other technologies into its system planning, we’ll be that much further ahead. It will reduce operating costs for the system, which is a good way to save money.
What have been the benefits to date that the public can appreciate and understand from the passage of Measure R?
The projects that Measure R is specifically funding that are under construction include the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth in the Valley (that should be done mid summer). The first phase of the Expo Line that just opened was not funded by Measure R; it was funded earlier using other revenues. The extension to Santa Monica, which is now under construction, is Measure R-funded and should be completed in 3 or 4 years. Getting all that underway quickly is definitely a Measure R benefit.
The Crenshaw system will be under construction soon. Neither that project nor Phase 2 of Exposition Light Rail had any prospect of funding before Measure R. They just wouldn’t be happening because Metro had absolutely zero money for new projects. The Gold Line extension to Azusa is also under construction and planning for the Regional Connector is underway — both are Measure R funded. So several projects are under construction, and several projects are nearing the end of the environmental review and will be under construction soon. In transit development time this is happening at light speed. Having this many projects going at once, and the idea that the whole system might be completed in ten years, is a miraculous notion. Kudos to Mayor Villaraigosa and his staff for figuring out that this was a possibility, and kudos to the Metro staff for figuring out how to make it happen. This is an exciting example of public leadership that I think we all should be proud of.