Will Metro’s Measure R “Informational” Campaign Backfire?

On Top of a Pile of Junk Mail, or Part of a Pile of Junk Mail?

Last Thursday during Metro’s Board of Directors meeting, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina protested that Metro was spending $4.1 million of public funds to  promote Measure R in violation of federal and state laws that prohibit governmental organizations from engaging in campaigns for or against ballot measures.  Recently, the Expo Construction Authority also found itself in the center of controversy for using public dollars to sway public opinion.

When I heard Molina’s attack, which she claimed was timed to not embarass Mayor Villaraigosa by waiting for the cameras to leave the meeting, I thought it was thinly veiled posturing by a politician that didn’t get her way when funding decisions were made on how the funds generated by a half cent sales tax would be spent.  Then, I got my mail on Friday, and so did everyone else I know.

Included with the normal junk mail was a 16 page, full color "brochure" as part of its informational campaign designed to educate voters on what projects we will see if the sales tax passes the November ballot.

Now here’s the thing.  Between the nice brochure and the newspaper advertisements this looks like a political campaign, even if it does technically meat the definition of a "public information campaign."  The Daily News isn’t fooled, and neither were the informal, small group of people whom I spoke with this weekend.  The strongest condemnation came from my Mom, who called it, "A waste of money, the kind of thing that makes me not want to give any more money to politicians."

So here’s the question, Streetsbloggers: If we accept Metro’s explanation that the expenditures on a campaign to inform the public on the benefits of Measure R are legal; are they a good idea?  Or will they turn off more people than they educate?

Photo:Damien Newton

  • It’s hard to decide, because you think people know all there is to know, but then I talk to people who aren’t transit nerds, who don’t ride the bus and have no idea what is going on and these kinds of brochures help. Does it have to be so glossy? No, but is it a purposeful waste, a part of me wants to say yes, but another part of me wants to say no.

    My issue is are they telling the truth in regards to what they want to do. I would hate for them to have all of these slick brochures and the busses were still late and rails still didn’t get built.

    My issue is a pattern of behavior that Metro has of waste and cronyism it’s not really really just these brochures its what the brochures represent.

    Do I think it will help or hurt measure R? Well I think the people who think that Metro is wasteful agency this is not going to help, but it doesn’t matter with those people because they are going to vote no anyway. The people who want it to pass, well they are going to just look past it like they look past everything. For people who are undecided this might help, I don’t think it will hurt for people who are truly undecided or don’t know.

    You know why, because they don’t know. They are not aware of what is going on.

    This election is going to have a huge turn out and people who probably were not politically aware are going to come out like never before and I truly think for this election, because of the circumstances this will probably help Metro more than hurt. I think any measure that wants to pass this year is going to have to do alot of marketing and advertising, because the average person this year may not be as informed as in the past.

    So my final answer is. It is going to help the MTA.

    What are the prizes Damien.

  • I think something like this brochure is necessary because 99.9% of people in Los Angeles are probably not transportation nerds, and would likely never heard of Measure R at all until reaching the voting both if it were not for something like this mass mailing. I was excited when I first saw it because it signified to me that people will know what the hell the thing is when they vote.

  • Everyone I’ve spoken to doesn’t know this is even on the ballot. People reading this blog don’t need to be reached on this, but most Angelenos do need to be reached. The definition of “public information” is a fluid thing, but this is pretty standard.

    Having said that, without talking about Measure R but simply the California revenue crisis, there is a perverse sort of imbalance when California has such a populist system whereby the Government has to go to voters in order to get revenue, but isn’t allowed to convince voters that the revenue is necessary for the governance of the state. It’s why the idiots at Howard Jarvis, who plainly represent a small minority in California, have such a huge sway – they have an empty mic from which to blare their nonsense.

  • When I got this waxy fish wrapper in the mail, I was PISSED. This is an expensive advertisement for a ballot initiative. Voter education? Hah! This is a waste of taxpayer dollars – money that could have installed 6% of L.A.’s already-designed bikeway network (total cost is $60 million).

    The local street improvements page is misleading. The MTA’s funding guidelines are setup to prohibit Local Return money from going to pedestrian and bicycle projects.

    Nay, I say, nay! Nay on Prop R!

  • Where is this guideline you are talking about that prohibits local returns from going to pedestrians and bicycles projects? I know there was an effort to guarantee funding for bikes and peds rather then leaving it to local jurisdictions, but I had not heard anything about prohibited. In any case, the train projects which make up a large portion of the funding are desperately needed, and the local funding for basic road maintenance benefits cyclists too. Bike lane or not, we need those epic pot holes, mounds of deformed asphalt and cracked as all hell streets to get some love.

    I know this thing could be more ideally structured for bikes, but I feel if cyclists shoot a good thing down because we don’t get everything we want, we are no better than the people in the Valley who whine about the West Side (which has far more traffic from all regions of LA) getting a subway extension that could be funding more Valley projects.

  • This isn’t rocket science. Most of the urbanized counties in the state have passed transportation sales taxes of this sort (the so-called self-help counties). The rules of what a public agency can do are well established. The Orange County Register ranted and raved against the renewal of Maesure R which OCTA did a similar informational campaign for. And the reneweal passed. I was at the Alt Car Expo this weekend giving ouyt the Metro information sheet and promoting this measure for all it is worth. The bus service reductions/fare increases we face if it doersn’t pass are too horrible to contemplate.

    There is a Measure R campaign that is getting up and running despite the small lead time between the signing of AB 2321 and the election. That will help take some of the burden off Metro.

    Brayj, if the bike community was aboard for the measure and was seen as helping to pass it that would earn it the political clout to make possible the spending on the bike projects you champion. Saying no means you’ll be left out in the cold. Very short-sighted.

  • Right now I’m leaning alot towards yes on R. I think there needs to be more funding on transit. Do I like everything in the bill? No. I think at times though you have to think about the greater good. You think how does this society work and how close you can get to ideal. Striking this bill down to me, in my opinion will take us further away from ideal, so even though I don’t trust Metro and I wish the bill had more of certain things and less of others in the end this is closer to where we should be going.

    I think the good thing about this is that Metro is now going to be watched and held accountable. I think for a very long time Metro could pretty much do what they wanted, but now with a larger demographic relying on and using public transit they are going to be unable to do sneakiness without being exposed.

    In general though that’s our job as the public to hold people accountable because if we don’t care, then the people who run our agencies aren’t going to care. Measure R if it passes and we continue to watch Metro and not just forget about it after the election is over, will do what we want, because not doing it would be more trouble than it is worth.

  • even though I don’t trust Metro and I wish the bill had more of certain things and less of others in the end this is closer to where we should be going.

    I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head. LA County is a massive place, and it’s easy to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s going to be quite awhile before LA adopts SF’s Transit First model, but to make sure that I abuse at least one metaphor per sentence, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single stop ;p. We’ll get to a Transit First model when we have a more representative demographic taking transit, and to do that, we need to improve all modes. The ongoing California budget crisis (and it’s not over, folks, just delayed for a few months) shows that it’s going to be very difficult to get blood from a stone (cool, another metaphor).

    Umberto, do you have any information/links on that statement? That thing about Local Return money seems a little counter-intuitive, to say the least.

  • Marcotico

    I wish I lived up in LA county to vote on this. However it is interesting to note that OCTA was criticized for doing the same thing with their voter education packets. They actually also had the brilliant idea to send out a 2nd brochure that looked a lot like the official voter information packets, but had a big orange logo with Measure M renewal written on it. c

    Of course would I approve as much if I didn’t agree with measure R and Measure M, hmmmm. not sure.


    Bicycle and Pedestrian Paths –
    Construction of a bikeway and/or pedestrian path is prohibited unless the bikeway or pedestrian path is designed so that the sponsor can demonstrate that it will not have to be relocated or removed to allow for construction or operation of a future transportation project. This will have the effect of limiting bikeways to wider right-of-ways and will require that the bike path and associated pedestrian path and landscaping be contained within a limited area along the outer edge of the right of way.

    Is this where I add the “9/11 was an inside job. Wake up sheeple!”?

    There are several other policies which implicitly exclude bikeways and pedestrian paths from Local Returns funding, but I don’t want to bore anyone.

    This could all be changed with an MTA board order, but that is never going to happen (this year).

  • Uhh. I think you’re being overly paranoid. That seems to be, among other things, a blunt object to use with regards to Phase 2 of Expo, where the NIMBY’s claim they want the ROW to be used as a bike path instead of a rail line.

  • Wait wait wait. Please don’t confuse what the Expo Authority is doing with Dakota Communications, with this Measure R brochure.

    With Dakota they’ve been hired to:
    a) Pay people to circulate petitions in support of Expo “as proposed”
    b) Pay people to attend press conferences to speak on behalf of the project
    c) Whatever else Rick/Kerman can concoct

    And these are public funds being used in an attempt to create the appearance of public support for MTA in a community, where the vast majority doesn’t support what MTA is doing.

    Comparing this brochure to that is like comparing a hang-nail to an amputation.

    Regarding the brochure if it’s not illegal it should be. Government agencies shouldn’t be allowed to spend public funds to send mailers out to every household about a ballot measure. By it’s simple delivery it says “Vote for me.” Just because the words aren’t there doesn’t change the fact that it’s a campaign piece.

    They should be forced to rely on the Secretary of State/County Clerk information bulletins to explain the what is in the measure like every referendum on the ballot.

    If they want to send mailers to every house they need to do like every other government agency and get the labor unions who stand to benefit from the passage, to pay for it darn it!

  • Whether Measure R builds a single bike/ped only pathway or not, it will benefit cyclist and pedestrians. Pedestrian’s obviously depend on public transit, but cyclists quite often use it to mix with and extend bicycle travel. Almost every time I have used the train, which isn’t often living in Santa Monica, I have run into other cyclists I knew, holding their bike. From Midnight Ridazz I have seen Roadblock, RBI, canadienne, Chicken Leather and a few others all at random chance at a time when no ride was going on.

  • Measure R does little to nothing for bike riders. The MTA doesn’t officially consider walking or bike riding to be “transportation”! They measure a single occupant car and a fully loaded bus as “one vehicle” in their roadway performance calculations. They don’t need this money to provide for our future. They’ve got plenty now, they simply dedicate vast chunks of it to road widening, highway construction, and glamorous railway projects. They could achieve much more instead by using cheaper and just-as-effective BRT projects, road diets, bikeways, pedestrian districts, and other off-the-shelf and low cost solutions.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I agree there is lot of crap that needs to change systematically with the way transportation is handled in L.A. as lot of your points bring up.

    However I don’t consider repaving terrible stretches of road and a subway in one of the most trafficked regions in the country to be little to nothing. Have you ever ridden the 720 rapid bus down Wilshire? Those double length buses can get so packed in they fit people standing beyond the yellow safety line, such as I did on a Sunday morning, not even a peak time. A subway has a considerable up front cost but can move more people at faster speeds. Without grade separation like the subway would have, buses on Wilshire will always be subject to traffic delays even if they had their own lane. People want transit options that can compete with car times, not be slower than a guy on a road bicycle.

  • Ellen

    Damian, thanks as always for airing the issues that need to be discussed, like Measure R. Here’s the thing: it’s easy to criticize the Measure for what it isn’t, or Metro for what it has or hasn’t done. Where are the alternatives? Bikes aren’t the answer for everyone. Buses aren’t the answer for everyone. Rail isn’t the complete answer either. Los Angeles County needs all of it, and freeways, and Dash shuttles and more. Without Measure R revenue, there is NO new funding for the next 30 years for the projects in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan.

    Here’s a novel concept: we all get in the boat and pull on the oars in the same direction! Yes on Measure R.

  • There is no new funding, but the existing BILLIONS can still be spent in different ways.

    Instead of throwing hundreds of millions at grade separation, how about $60 million for the entire City of L.A. to have a bikeway network that will put 5% of traffic on two (quiet, safe) wheels?

    Why not alter the funding guidelines that prohibit pedestrian improvements from getting transportation? That is low hanging fruit, and the benefits of that would actually improve our quality of life (whereas the “quality of life” improvements being sold in this brochure include “Better cargo movement” and “Less wait times at traffic signals”, WTF?!).

  • The real “WTF” is you not getting how important goods movement and synchronizing traffic signals are to this County. Look, 90% of residents in Los Angeles County has access to a vehicle. 75% of Angelenos drive to work alone in their cars. You can try to attract some of them away from their cars through better transit, bikeways, etc., which I support, but you have to give them something because else they’ll see there’s nothing in it for them and turn it down.

    You apparently don’t get out in the San Gabriel Valley much, because else you’d know how “better cargo movement” helps communities. By building bridges for the trains to go over traffic, they can stop blocking intersections and delaying emergency response vehicles. The trains can stop blowing their horns, which means that people can finally get a good night’s sleep five nights out of the week (quiet zones are occasionally violated) from zero. And train traffic becomes more reliable, which helps take the load of our congested freeways, where trucks extend the rush hour on the 60 to about noontime. It keeps the Port of los Angeles and Long Beach strong, which keeps many of our good paying, blue collar jobs here rather than moving them to Ensanada or Lazaro Cardenas.

    Less wait times at traffic signals helps people get home to their families faster, thus enhancing quality of life. Traffic signals are calibrated for traffic demand and are not just left on a pre set timer, resulting in wasted fuel getting to red lights. When timed properly, traffic syncoornization can maintain a steady flow of traffic, rather than jackrabbits speeding down boulevards like Pico and Venice at 60 mph just so they can catch the tail end of the next light ahead.

    Just because time with your kids isn’t important to you, or the health of our economy isn’t important to you, doesn’t mean that Metro doesn’t get it, and that’s why they’re including a balance of road, rail, bus, pedestrian, and bicycle projects in their plan.

  • I would love to see the SOCIAL SCIENCE that backs up your claims about quality of life.

    You are using a rule of thumb from a group of professionals that are trained to use streets as a sewer pipe for private automobiles. What does a transportation engineer know, or care, about the “quality of life”?

    They don’t. They pay lip service to it by claiming, with no data, with no science, that something (they always shift their definition when pressed) called “quality of life” will improve if we can build just … one … more … freeway.

    Somehow, private automobile speeds are linked to “quality of life”? Since when did more freeways increase the amount of free time people had?

    How, exactly, will more highways make us able to enjoy our friends and families more?

    This whole ridiculous prop of “quality of life” as measured by signal wait times and vague hand waving assertions about how that will get us home to our families earlier, dates back to the early 1930’s. It is a sputtering remnant of a lost world of cheap oil. The time for it is done. It is over. Get over it. Fast car travel does not necessarily equal “quality of life”. If anything, fast car travel represents a measurable decrease in the quality of life for everyone not driving a private automobile.

  • If I could take a subway from the west side, which is currently an island in the metro network, to the east side, I would consider my quality of life improved. I know many others who feel the same. Right now my options are biking my ass across town or taking a bus that moves across the city like molasses. I live and work on the west side, but I have many friends and my girlfriend who live east, so I make the cross town bike commute often. I’m a strong cyclist, but I don’t always feel like making the sweaty trek, but since the bus is slow I do it anyways most of the time. Even if there was the most perfect bike only route that went east west all across the city, not everyone is going to want to bike from Santa Monica to Hollywood. Yes we need better bike routes, but we need a lot more than that.

    I would like to see a more complete bike network, and will advocate for it at any chance I get, including fighting for it if the Measure R local funds happen, but many of the projects that won’t see the light of day without Measure R funds, are things I want to see happen and I think this city needs. The west side extension of the subway alone would take more cars off the road than any other transit project I could think of. If you don’t believe me, spend sometime watching the 10 freeway, Santa Monica Blvd, Wilshire Blvd, Olympic Blvd and Pico Blvd. The demand for fast east west travel is more than bikes and buses alone are really ideal for.

  • The thing about elections and referendums is that there always the next one, or the one after that, or after that…

    I don’t think people respond any more favorably to people attempting to scare them into believing that if Measure R doesn’t pass it will be the end of the world. If anything it results in the type of response the American people showed regarding the $700 market bailout.

    If Measure R fails, there’s no 30-year prohibition to bringing another in the future. If it fails, I can guarantee you that another and likely much better measure will be submitted sometime in the near future – be it 1, 2 or 4 years.

    In a little over a month hundreds of thousands of people who 10 years ago went to the polls and voted to prevent local sales taxes from being spent on subways will vote for sales taxes to go towards building subways.

    There is no reason that anyone has given on why on the ’09 or ’10 ballot a better measure can’t be created. This Measure entirely has to do with the personal aspirations of individual politicians. It’s no more a measure for traffic relief than some of the pet political projects MTA calls transportation projects.

  • Actually, there is. The 2008 election will probably set records for raw number of voters turning out, and will be the best election in 20 or 30 years in terms of percentage of registered voter turnout. Traditionally, off year elections have always trended more conservative or reactionary. If you wait until 2009 or 2010, you are likely to get a ballot measure similar to Riverside or San Bernardino County’s, with 65% of the money going to freeway expansion instead of the other way around, like with Measure R.

    Incidentally, at the San Gabriel Valley COG level I’ve heard rumors of planning for a San Gabriel Valley-only sales tax measure for the cities and unincorporated areas within the COG boundaries, which will build all of the transportation improvements the San Gabriel Valley wants. Yes, it will extend the Gold Line to Claremont – and add lanes to the 210, 10, and 60 freeways, and build the 710 tunnel, which will tip the balance in favor of highways to over 50%. For transit advocates, this is the best option to bring better public transportation to the region.

    As for “quality of life”, 77% of residents in Iowa studies said that train horns “had either a “negative” or “very negative” impact on their quality of life”. Grade separations eliminate train horns, and quiet zones greatly reduce them. (http://www.iowadot.gov/trainhornstudy.htm) Since you asked, try this link for information linking traffic congestion to stress: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=traffic+congestion+stress&hl=en& The fact is people are stressed out when they are in traffic, and that reduces quality of life. When they are waiting 15 minutes for a train to go by, and they can’t turn around, that increase blood pressure levels. There are articles there about how poorly timed traffic signals increase stress levels. All of these have been well proven. Your plan to punish everyone who drives a car even more than the cost of fuel and of congestion have punished them now is frankly disturbing. Your lack of concern for blue collar workers, and apparent willingness to export our distribution jobs to places like Texas and Mexico, is also disturbing. We need better transportation to keep attracting and retaining the diversified economy that we have here, or we could easily turn into Detroit or Buffalo, which have no congestion… but no reason to live there either.

  • Damien G,

    I fail to understand your beef with a sense of urgency behind passing Measure R. Stepping back from whether you agree with it or not, what is the issue with pushing for now, rather than later? Government progresses (or recesses) glacially, and so a “do or die” attitude offers a necessary counterpoint. You also project a sense of urgency in your activist endeavors, so it is surprising to see you suspicious of the same quality in others.

  • Damien Goodmon

    Hmmm…Alex, you know that’s one of those statements where it’s so logically flawed I must humbly admit that I’m not quite sure how to address it.

    Expo Phase 1: Bulldozers are literally on the right-of-way ready and fully funded to build a flawed plan that will impact us for the next 100 years.

    There is only a matter of months to chance course, so I think most people understand that expressing the urgency of NOW is warranted.

    I mean, you really don’t see the difference between that and falsely purporting to people that this very flawed measure will be the only chance in the next 30 years to approve a sales tax increase for transportation, and insinuating that if it fails there will never again be another chance to pass such a measure?

    Well intended measures make the ballot all the time and are voted down because of the specifics. They’re addressed, are put back on the ballot and pass.

  • If we’re still talking about this in a hundred years I’ll retroactively cut my ears off in frustration.

    You have a specific sense of urgency about the implementation of at grade plans for the Expo line, correct? This in no way delegitimizes a general, non-specific sense of urgency. 500,000 children in the Los Angeles Metro Area have asthma, most of which can be sourced to a shitty transportation system (and a good deal can also be sourced to idiotic forest management policies.) This is a general problem without specific redress. However, Measure R is the kind of thing which, while far from perfect, is a step toward addressing that problem. Putting off financing these projects means that we will continue with business as usual for at least a year in terms of addressing these problems.


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