August 16, 2022 - From the August, 2022 issue

Move LA’s new Executive Director Eli Lipmen on Prop 30’s Promise

Last month, a proposed statewide ballot initiative to increase taxes on incomes over $2 million to fund programs to reduce air pollution and prevent wildfires—Proposition 30, the California Clean Cars & Clean Air Act—qualified for the November ballot. With the initiative formulation led by MoveLA, SPUR, California Environmental Voters (formerly CLCV), Coalition for Clean Air, and several dozen other labor, nonprofit, and business organizations, TPR interviewed Move LA’s new executive director, Eli Lipmen, to elaborate on how such funding would leverage anticipated federal infrastructure investments and EV tax incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act to accelerate and scale deployment of zero-emissions transportation throughout California. Lipmen also comments on CARB’s draft 2022 Scoping plan, a pending bill to provide free transit to students in California, and the need to increase production of transit-accessible affordable housing.


“Move LA's position is that the (CARB) Scoping Plan does not go far enough because we believe it could do more to clean our air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and VMT, while also expanding our economy and creating good, high-road jobs.”—Eli Lipmen

After many years as Move LA's Development and Programming Director, you've recently been appointed Executive Director. Start by reminding our readers of Move LA's mission and how you will be working to advance as the new Executive Director its mission.

Eli Lipmen: I've worked for Move LA for five years now. Prior to that, I was on the board for six years. Marlene Grossman, the founder of Pacoima Beautiful and philanthropist throughout LA, recruited me to join the board, which was fantastic. I was really lucky to gain that knowledge about the planning and transportation worlds.

Move LA was founded in 2007 as a coalition-building organization to bring together business, labor, and environmental stakeholders and affordable housing, faith, disability rights, public transit, and many other advocates to talk about infrastructure, in particular public transportation. We've also worked on No on Prop 6 in 2018 (gas tax repeal), Measure H in 2017 onhomelessness, and Measure R (2008) and M (2016) on public transportation.

Now, we are leading an effort on an affordable housing measure: the United to House LA Measure (Measure ULA) on the November ballot for more affordable housing and tenants’ rights protection and homelessness prevention in the City of Los Angeles. We're really excited because it's going to mean that our transit riders can actually live closer to this big public infrastructure investment we’re making.

We're also focused on Proposition 30, which is the statewide ballot measure that we teed up on clean air and clean vehicles, everything from tugboats and ships to cars and trucks and wildfire adaptation and mitigation.

Congress, as you well know, has acted this month, probably more decisively than in the last 30 years, on climate change. Elaborate on the promise of the federal government's funding for your game plan?

The Inflation Reduction Act was passed just last night by the Senate. We've been tracking that because there's actually $3 billion in it for a program called Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants. It's another name for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which was $1 billion in the Infrastructure Law passed last year with the goal of removing barriers that have divided communities.

We have a long history in this country of building, in particular highways and freeways, through communities of color. There was a LA Times article that did a really fantastic job of accounting for all the people that have been displaced over the decades. The goal of these programs is to fund ways to reconnect communities. That can mean everything from a park over the 101 freeway through downtown or the LA River or the 710 stub. There's all this opportunity for housing, parks, and really whatever the community wants.

We've also been tracking federal dollars from COVID recovery packages. What was significant was this was the first time that the federal government funded transit agencies to provide transit service levels in Los Angeles and across the country. We've been fighting for more funding for that because we found that transit agencies are struggling to not only recruit enough operators to run good transit service, but then actually put that service back on the road as the pandemic subsided. When people have better service, they're more likely to ride, and that's really what we need with our public transit system.

It's fantastic that we're building all these new transit lines. We've got the K line coming on, the Regional Connector, the Sepulveda Pass line, and the West Santa Ana Branch line. We've got all these incredible projects, but if we don't have the service levels to match it, we actually won't get to the climate goals and the VMT reduction goals that we need to achieve.

You recently joined an expert panel “Ensuring Sustainable Mobility: The Money is Coming— How to Invest it Wisely?” at June’s VerdeXchange. What was your takeaway from that panel discussion?

What was most important about that VX2022 panel discussion is the realization that there is a lot of money coming to Southern California for transportation investment. We're incredibly lucky that this Congress not only budgeted these funds, but is beginning to appropriate them. If we don't spend it well, we will be in the same place that we were a couple years ago.

The unfortunate reality is that yes, they did allocate more money for public transportation than they ever have before. It's a bigger dollar amount than in previous infrastructure bills, but the split of money allocated to public transit is still the same--20 percent;with 80 percent of the dollars from the infrastructure bill still going to highways, freeways, and roads.

Now that could be a good thing if we build the right way, meaning more complete streets infrastructure and more opportunities not just for single passenger vehicles, but for buses and walking and bicycling, or if it continue to fund the ‘status quo’ which has resulted in more traffic, pollution, and traffic deaths than ever before.

The other thing that we really have been interested in is project delivery. VerdeXchange brings in so many experts from other constitutional democracies like our system, and yet the cost per mile of constructing their transit systems are way lower than ours. There's a great report from the Eno Center on project delivery that outlines some specific ways that federal, state, and local governments can improve how we deliver on our projects.

That, for us, is about fulfilling the promise of Measure R and Measure M. We made the case to voters we were going to do all these projects at a certain cost and this is why we needed the sales tax funding. The reality is it's going to cost more than those original estimates. Even the federal and state dollars that we're going to get may not be enough if we don't do a better job of delivering projects on time and on budget. We have a good history of doing it with certain projects like the Expo Line and the Gold Line, bute also have examples that are not so good. We need to be working to ensure all projects are completed on time and on budget.

CARB is currently updating its 2022 Scoping Plan. What is Move LA's position on CARB’s proposed plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Is the Scoping Plan realistic? Does it push the envelope?

Move LA's position is that the CARB Scoping Plan does not go far enough to clean our air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and VMT, while also expanding the economy.

You might think that's a little pie in the sky, but we actually think it's a reality. That's specifically the reason why we've been working for four years on our roadmap that we called Vision 2022. We were originally going to do a ballot measure that would raise $50 billion for clean air, clean infrastructure, and clean trucks, boats, trains, and anything else that moves with good paying jobs, unionized workforce just in the South Coast Air District. We pivoted and realized that we could raise $100 billion and do it as a statewide initiative.

That was the impetus and the initial policy discussions that helped to draft the measure called the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act, which qualified for the November ballot. It’s now designated as Proposition 30. It would be about a $3 to $4 billion investment every year, paid for with an incremental tax on incomes over $2 million, that would specifically go to clean air initiatives. That’s clean trucks, clean cars, clean rail, clean buses, clean tugboats, and clean airplanes, as well as the infrastructure necessary to fuel and to charge it and money for wildfire adaptation and mitigation. 50 percent in each of those categories would go into an equity fund that would specifically need to be spent in disadvantaged communities.

That's why we have organized labor, the electrician’s union, building trades, environmental justice groups, firefighters, businesses, health care professionals, transit advocates, and organizations like us supporting that measure because that $4 billion investment means that the Scoping Plan can be much more aggressive without slowing down our economy. In fact, we think it will accelerate it because we're putting in a huge public investment that will draw private investment in all of those spaces with high quality infrastructure, clean technology, and good jobs.

That's why we're pushing the Air Resources Board to think bigger. Consider the hypothetical of Proposition 30 passing and bringing along our friends in the environmental justice community who want to see equitable spending of that money, the business community who wants to see the economy continue and expand, and the labor community who wants to see high quality, high paying jobs here in California.

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Before this week and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, there was reasonable skepticism that Congress could pass any meaningful climate change legislation. That take perhaps explains MoveLA’s push for measures like Prop 30 to be put on the ballot. With evidence now that Congress can act, does that change Move LA's view of the role of the legislature vis-a-vis reliance on ballot initiatives?

Move LA believes in the power of voters. We also trust the voters. Frankly, we don't necessarily trust that the state and federal government will, in a sense, do the right thing. Most of the time they do, but the challenge is that you have changing winds, changing administrations, changing priorities, changing legislators, and changing budgets.

We’re not in the constitutional amendment business. What I'm trying to suggest is that there is fragility and instability in the year-to-year public budgeting process at the federal and state levels, and that is challenging for the business community, who needs to plan their business operations and cannot ramp up operations on a dime, or consumers who are confused by on-again-off-again EV rebates. That’s why we're dealing with this huge supply issue now. Everybody wants to order a zero emission truck, but there's a two year waiting list to get one and so we are waiting for the transition because we have not had consistent public funding.

The Inflation Reduction Act, it’s worth noting, baked in multiple years of predictability. Secondly, ballot measure offer voters binary choice -  all or nothing. Do you think binary choice is preferable to the representative form of government enshrined in both our Federal and State Constitutions?

You’ve got me in a constitutional quandary here. I think things change a little bit with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. I don't think we were able to really trust that it was going to happen until just a few short weeks ago.

Part of what Move LA likes to do is create a public process where we talk to as many folks as we can and vet an idea before it goes to the ballot. Sometimes people write something and they put a lot of money behind it because they can, and it hasn't been well vetted and doesn't consider all the stakeholders. That sometimes created bad public policy.

We try to create good public policy at Move LA, in a way that is open, transparent, and includes as many stakeholders as we can. We do still fundamentally believe that voters should decide if they want to tax themselves, do something of importance, and get something done on climate change.

Let's be honest, even the Inflation Reduction Act will not achieve President’s goal of 50 percent emissions reductions from 2005 levels by 2030. It will only get to 40 percent. So there is a shortfall in what Congress has agreed to fund.  The model that we must create in order to succeed in our efforts to meet truly serious challenges of a global scale, like climate change, but as well the national challenges of a shortage of affordable housing, is a bonafide collaboration between the federal government, state government and local government.  As the federal government for really the first time makes a serious commitment of real resources to fighting climate change they know the resources will be divided 50 ways.  They need states like California to show how much more can be accomplished when the federal government has real state partners - and even local partners.

As the state of California, we can fill that gap. That is what Proposition 30 does. It will be the $100 Billion investment that will not only achieve the emissions reductions we need to survive climate catastrophy but it will clean our toxic air—a unique need here in Southern California. That also happens to be what Measure R and Measure M do with public transportation. We knew that we could only expect a certain amount of funding from the state and federal government and we had to step up as Los Angeles County to fund the public infrastructure we need to move LA. And that is what we do—propose well considered funding solutions to voters and let them decide because we know that they consider the threat ofclimate change, wildfires, and toxic airas real, and we provide them with a solution to do something about it.

For purposes of this interview, the Inflation Reduction Act does not provide incentives for electric bicycles. Does MoveLA’s ballot measures fill the gap with respect to strategies for getting Californians out of their cars? 

Yes, they do in two ways. Proposition 30 does specifically reference electric bicycles and charging infrastructure, but it will be up to CARB how those incentives are structured. Do we support incentives for e -bikes? Absolutely. Do we support incentives for zero emission vehicles? Absolutely. Especially if it's targeted to disadvantaged communities.

But we also need to pass Measure ULA because we also believe that people shouldn’t have to drive or even bike to get to work by building more affordable housing near transit. We've lost hundreds of thousands of low-income households in LA County because they can't afford to live here, from the personworking on the transportation stations to clean it earning minimum wage, to the (hopefully) unionizedStarbucks worker  driving hours and hours or take multiple buses just to get to their workplace.

We just don't think that's acceptable. We need more affordable housing near transit so that people can bike, walk, and take public transit to their jobs. We're trying to aim for a major investment in affordable housing, public transit, and clean air so that we can have sustainable, affordable, fast, frequent, and reliable transit next to high-quality, affordable housing.

Move LA is advocating at the state level for AB 1919 to provide free transit to students across California. Comment on the significance of that bill and why it's a priority.

We've been working on student transportation for a decade now. It started in Santa Monica when Denny Zane helped to create a program at Santa Monica College, supported by the students. Every study since has shown that the best model is a transit insurance model where everybody gets a pass. Some use it twice a day, everyday; some never use it, but they subsidize it because everyone gets a pass.

That's the type of model we're trying to pass statewide, where every student from kindergarten and up could get a free transit pass. This is because students ride transit. The majority are not making an income. They're much more willing to change their transportation habits than somebody who's a little bit older, who may own a car, or who is used to driving.

We think it's the best investment by the agencies, education institutions, and the state to invest in student transit because you'll get the fastest return on your investment. We love all the capital money that the state is going to put into transportation, but we won't see those investments for several years. We need transit ridership and traffic reduction today if we're going to address our climate change problems and recover our ridership from the pandemic.

Lastly, having been elevated to the position that Denny Zane held for many years. Is Denny leaving Move LA? 

Denny and I have been talking for a couple of years with our board about a smooth transition. Denny has been working in this field for decades, and he's been an incredible mentor of mine. I was really honored when he approached me about taking on the role of executive director.

Denny is still staying in the organization, and we've actually, sort of switched roles. He's my director of policy now, and I'm the executive director. I get to do all the administrative stuff like manage the staff and make sure that payroll is done and approve expense reports while he does the fun stuff like write policy and meet with legislators!

We have a great staff at Move LA. I've got a great mentor and partner with Denny and our two other staff members, Gloria Ohland and Marisa Garcia. One of the most incredible things about where we work is the loyalty and the commitment to the organization. I've never worked at a place where the staff has remained the same for over a decade and I am really grateful for our stellar team and this awesome opportunity!

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.