But Denny Zane thinks that long-held notion of LA as a transit-poor, gridlocked tangle of highways needs some revision. And maybe even Oregon can learn something.
As founder of Move LA, a political coalition that led the charge to pass a multibillion-dollar transportation package called Measure R in 2008, Zane has been at the forefront of the movement to transform the way people get around Los Angeles County.
Now, as Move LA prepares to double down on Measure R’s success with a new ballot initiative dubbed “Measure R2”, Zane dropped by Metro Regional Center Wednesday to present on building coalitions to improve urban transportation options. For those who missed out, here are some key takeaways.
If you want to build a successful campaign, build a coalition.
Everyone loves getting around more easily and reliably. But paying for it – that’s usually the tricky part.
Zane believes Move LA’s success passing Measure R was a direct result of building a strong coalition of business leaders, labor groups and environmental activists – a “green-blue-green” coalition.
To fund transportation improvements for 30 years, Measure R entailed raising a half-cent sales tax across the county. Measure R2 could add another half-cent for 40 years – creating a combined $120 billion for a variety of transportation investments. Zane and other proponents hope to get it on the ballot this November.
But thanks to California’s Proposition 13, passed by statewide voters in 1978, tax initiatives need a two-thirds majority approval of voters – something Move LA experienced the hard way when a 2012 effort to expand Measure R failed, because only 66.1 percent of voters voted yes.
So while Zane insists that "victory is possible," it's only achievable if Move LA builds a groundswell of support for its vision.
Aim high, but be targeted.
A plan has to be big enough, and daring enough, to convince those sitting on the fence that change can be a good thing. But it also has to be packaged and communicated in a way that helps various interest groups see what they can win if it passes, Zane said.
“Business leaders know that a working transportation system costs less than a tax,” Zane said. Likewise, he noted that labor groups know that large transportation investments meant new jobs and improved access for their members to get to existing ones, while environmentalists see the obvious benefits of reducing air pollution and promoting travel alternatives.
But finding consensus in a meeting room is just the beginning. Projects on this scale demand dedication, Zane said: “You have to get agreements to happen in public.”
A broader coalition is a stronger coalition.
It’s not enough to just get the usual big players at the table, though. Several key provisions of Measure R2 are intended to reach groups of residents that have historically been overlooked when projects of this scale.
One provision will set aside $3 billion to mitigate displacement of residents and businesses, emphasizing the building of affordable housing for those directly affected by the massive build-out. Meanwhile, other parts of the plan will be focused on providing reduced transit fares and subsidizing passes for seniors, people with disabilities and more than 1 million students in the region. The benefits of adding these groups go beyond just bolstering the number of future riders, though, said Zane. “Leaving these groups out wouldn’t just be an oversight, it’s bad politics.”
He also noted that lower-income residents and communities of color were among the coalition's biggest supporters – because they directly understand the benefit of better access and transportation options, even if they have to help pay to build them.
“They see opportunity instead of burden," Zane said.
Connectivity creates new opportunities.
“As I’m sure everyone here in Portland knows, connectivity is the secret sauce for transit,” Zane said, describing Measure R2’s vision to connect disparate commuter rail lines in greater Southern California to proposed and existing light rail and bus lines in LA County.
One key component of the build-out planned in R2 would be ensuring that this new network gives riders from across the metropolitan region quick access to Los Angeles International Airport, known as LAX.
“Just connecting LAX solves so many other traffic problems,” Zane said.
Learn from other models and create your own.
The transportation woes faced by urban areas everywhere are concentrated in Los Angeles, from underfunded and incomplete transit networks to gridlocked freeways and strangled freight movement.
So Move LA looks to other places for inspiration, like Portland: "The success of others becomes opportunities of success for us," he said.
But if Move LA’s plan is to succeed in L.A., Zane believes, it must be done in such a way that other urban areas can learn from success.
“We’re not trying to just solve problems, but create models,” he said. “If we can solve this for us, we can solve it for California. If we can solve it for California, then we solve it for the country.”
And Zane used the opportunity to take a bit of a dig at the Portland region, which faces its own challenges funding its transportation visions amid rapid growth.
"We're going after Portland," he said, noting that modernizing LA's transportation system has helped fuel a revitalization of downtown LA and a booming innovation economy. "Believe me, that's an aspiration worth having."