The epiphany came to Denny Zane as he sat in his idling vehicle, exasperated.
It was about eight years ago, and the former Santa Monica mayor was stuck in demoralizing eastbound traffic on Olympic Boulevard between Stewart Street and Interstate 405.
He had already seen projections that Los Angeles County was expected to add several million residents over the next few decades. Then came an ominous radio report: Funding for future transit projects was dwindling.
“It’s taking me an hour to get to Sepulveda,” Zane recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘This is crazy.’ That was a crashing realization to be stuck in that gridlock, knowing more people were coming and we’ve got no money. That’s a prescription for decline.”
What followed was a years-long effort by Zane and leaders throughout the region, including several other Santa Monica dignitaries, to rally for major upgrades to the county’s public transit system.
It’s an effort that continues today.
Zane is the well-connected, politically savvy executive director of Move LA, a broad coalition of government officials, business and labor leaders, environmental activists and community groups seeking to expand and improve the county’s public transit network.
Zane’s organization is hosting a transportation symposium from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 22 at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where current L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other major players will discuss a potential ballot measure to fund transportation projects with a sales-tax increase.
Sound familiar? Zane and Move LA played big roles in the 2008 passage of Measure R, which is generating more than $30 billion for Metropolitian Transit Authority projects over the next 30 years through a half-cent sales-tax increase.
Some money from the measure is going towards the extension of the Expo light-rail line from Culver City to downtown Santa Monica. Officials started testing trains earlier this month.
Zane and fellow organizers are now trying to mobilize support for what they’ve dubbed “Measure R2,” which in 2016 could ask voters for another half-cent sales-tax increase. Supporters envision long-term financial and environmental benefits.
“When you look at where we’re at as a county, it’s hard to envision how we really succeed without a major infusion of transit and other infrastructure,” Zane said. “If we do, and we do it right, we could have in Southern California the most efficient and competitive economy in the world. We could have clean air, and we could create a model for greenhouse gas reduction.”
If Measure R2 passes, Zane said, it’s possible that the Wilshire Boulevard subway could be extended west to Bundy Drive, just east of Santa Monica.
Zane said he thinks future regional transit projects involving the beachside city should only be considered after officials have several years of data to analyze Expo line ridership figures and other impacts.
But he believes Santa Monicans stand to benefit from Measure R transit work throughout the county as well as from potential Measure R2 projects.
“Having won in 2008, everybody is expectant that winning is possible,” Zane said. “Not that it’s certain, but it’s possible. With Measure R, you really had to convince people. Now, nobody thinks they’re wasting time. They feel winning is possible.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.