Looking Back, a Losing Ballot Measure Campaign Was a Big Long-Term Win
May 02, 2013
by Mary Lauran Hall, Communications Manager, Alliance for Biking & Walking
Last fall, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition set out a bold plan.
During the November 2012 election, voters in Alameda County were due to consider a reauthorization of the Alameda County Transportation Sales Tax Measure. The ballot measure, Measure B1, was a bold 30-year plan to raise an additional $7.8 billion for county transportation needs by instituting a penny sales tax. And thanks to the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s careful advocacy, the measure would direct over 11% of the new funding to biking and walking projects.
The measure’s passage would be big news for transportation in Alameda. Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, knew that the measure was a golden opportunity to create a local funding source for local transportation improvements.
“The county transportation agency had realized for several years now that federal funding was significantly decreasing, and state funding was decreasing even more,” Dave explained. “They needed to raise more money locally to support the projects they wanted to do.”
Staff at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition readied a full-on campaign to support the ballot measure’s passage. To bolster the organization’s efforts, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition applied for and received a Rapid Response grant from Advocacy Advance.
The EBBC conducts outreach for the Yes on B1 campaign. Image: EBBC
The Coalition had its work cut out for it. California law stipulates that funding measures must gain the support of two-thirds of voters in order to pass — meaning a tremendous amount of work ahead. To increase awareness throughout the county, advocates from the EBBC conducted outreach to local community groups and businesses, worked closely with the official “Yes on B1” campaign, and distributed promotional materials to spread the word.
Ultimately, the ballot measure fell just 700 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for passage. The final count was heartbreakingly close — by the final count, 66.53% of voters had voted to support the measure, just a hair shy of the needed 66.66%.
But despite the narrow loss, the EBBC has no regrets.
“The campaign put us in a very strong position,” Dave said.
For one, the measure will be back on the ballot soon, and last year’s high-visibility campaign put the EBBC in a strong position for a winning repeat performance.
“It’s looking like it will come back to the ballot by 2016 at the latest,” said Dave. “Everybody — our congressional delegation, the regional transportation agency, mayors in each city, the environmental community, our partners — wants this thing passed and will work to make it happen.”
Another positive outcome of the campaign: a great partnership with the county transportation agency.
“The Alameda County Transportation Commission has nothing but high praise about our work on the campaign,” Dave recounted. “Our relationship has never been stronger, and it’s only gotten better since the election. They know they’ll need us next time to make sure this thing passes.”
“It’s a great lesson for other advocacy groups,” he said. “You often build clout when you oppose something and defeat it. But you build as much clout or more by partnering and succeeding with a transportation agency.”
Plus, the campaign catapulted donations to the organization, enabling the EBBC to buff up on staff and advocacy power.
“Before 2012, we were still trying to figure out how to have a full-time person doing bike advocacy,” recalled Dave. “We were essentially a staff of 4 before the campaign, and now we’re around 6.5. It resulted in so much support from our members and our donors that we have a full-time advocacy staff. Our volunteer coordination, resources, and procedures are much stronger now.”
Dave attributes much of the campaign’s positive impacts to Advocacy Advance’s support.
“The Rapid Response grant helped us do the work,” he recalled. “Coupled with another comparable grant, we were able to hire a campaign fellow to do a lot of the legwork, including coordinating 100 volunteers.”
“The B1 Campaign got us there,” he continued. “And it feels good.”