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  • Stuart Cohen

Not a Cynical Corporate Scheme - The Real Story Behind Prop 30

Updated: Oct 17

Hi, this is Stuart Cohen. I founded TransForm 25 years ago and was Executive Director until 2019. Over the past year I’ve been supporting TransForm as Senior Policy Advisor as well as lots of other groups working to advance more equitable transportation and housing solutions, including Prop 30. Here’s a guest blog post I wrote about how this measure came to be, and why we Californians should support it.


The Real Scoop on Proposition 30 and the Reasons to Support It


The election is upon us and, unfortunately, there are wildly misleading ads opposing Prop 30 that feature Gov. Newsom saying “Prop 30 is a cynical scheme devised by a single corporation (Lyft).” This is a blatant lie. So I wanted to get you TRUE information about Prop 30 and its origins, including my role in co-creating it.


First, the basics.


Prop 30, the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act (CCCA), will provide roughly $100 billion in new revenue over the next 20 years to tackle the biggest challenges that California faces; climate change that is causing prolonged droughts and increasingly catastrophic wildfires that cost lives, destroy property, ruin our air quality and damage public health.


We need California to be a leader in reducing emissions, a model for other states and countries. Yet, we have almost no chance of meeting our ambitious targets because the transportation sector has been incredibly hard to clean. Transportation now constitutes 50% of California’s emissions – 40% from tailpipes and 10% from processing and transporting the fuel.

If we pass Prop 30:

  • $20 billion will go to fight and prevent catastrophic wildfires.

  • $35 billion will expand Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) charging/fueling for cars, trucks, public transit, school buses and more.

  • $45 Billion will bring down the price of ZEVs for consumers, cities, transit agencies, etc. and will fund mobility options too, from e-bikes to transit vouchers.

  • 50% of the funding from the latter two funding pots must go to benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities that suffer most from air pollution and are least able to afford vehicles or have charging infrastructure nearby.

Best of all, Prop 30 will raise money through a very fair and progressive source; a 1.75% tax on the increment of personal income above $2,000,000 per year.


When people learn about the progressive tax to take on climate change, air pollution and wildfire, they support it. So the opposition, almost entirely funded by billionaires (who have enough, yes?) have resorted to false statements to kill it.


Don’t be fooled by these lies. Climate and environmental justice leaders developed Prop 30. Lyft did not. Here is the true story.


(TransForm hosted a community workshop with the Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation in 2021 to educate residents of the Fruitvale neighborhood about Zero Emission Vehicles)


In The Beginning


Denny Zane, long-time executive director of Move LA, had initiated several successful transportation funding measures in Los Angeles. In 2020 he wanted to run a clean air funding measure in the larger LA region, but regional measures, it turns out, require a huge number of signatures to get on the ballot.


At the same time, my work as project manager of the FASTER Bay Area initiative – which would have raised $100 billion for Bay Area public transit – came to a screeching halt when the COVID pandemic hit and we could not advance the measure in the legislature.


Denny and I, old friends from working on two statewide collaborations, talked about how we may instead work to confront climate change and air pollution by working together for a state level measure. One of the people I worked closely with on FASTER, SPUR’s Chief Policy Officer, Nick Josefowitz, was also interested. With Denny’s years of research on funding measures helping lead the way, the three of us created an outreach plan to develop a Climate and Clean Air measure.


Denny soon brought in another wonderful colleague, Jeremy Madsen, former Executive Director of Greenbelt Alliance and current ED of Build it Green.

The next step was to reach out to potential partners to gauge their interest. The four of us had to see whether there would be enough common ground about investment priorities among a critical mass of prospective partners, especially within the community of environmental justice advocacy organizations.


Soon Mary Creasman, CEO of California Environmental Voters, and Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy at the Greenlining Institute, a great social equity organization, joined the dialogue. To bring forward partners that could shape the measure, as well as people, foundations or companies that could fund it, we needed an outreach strategy that incorporated both high visibility and high substantive content.


The parameters of the measure emerge


We spent a year reaching out to groups and climate leaders, and held seven public Zoom forums featuring the state’s climate leaders and attended by hundreds of people each, to explore a fundamental question: if we could place a ballot measure before California voters to abate climate change and end air pollution, what should the investment priorities be? While my long-time focus has been on creating walkable, transit-oriented communities because of their tremendous social and environmental benefits, the science of climate change is telling us we must have an aggressive roll-out of zero emission vehicles and infrastructure. We really can’t stop selling gas cars until that infrastructure is in place.


The science says we also need to dramatically reduce emissions of “Short Lived Climate Pollutants” like black carbon, and that can be done in part by suppressing wildfires and cutting out dirty diesel, both a focus of Prop 30.


Through continued engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders, the measure’s clear focus on clean air, climate change, and catastrophic wildfires emerged. With growing inequality, we also knew this measure needed to provide outsize benefits to those who need it most and who are the least likely to be able to transition to clean vehicles or afford public transit. It was agreed that half the funding should benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities.


The Hard Part – Fundraising


A year and a half after we began, we had the contours of the measure and a growing coalition of environmental groups, environmental justice groups, labor unions, public health groups, state climate leaders, and interested businesses. It was time to seek funding.


We needed $6 million for the signature gathering, some lawyers to help write the measure, and organizers for each region. The fundraising was tough, especially as many of these measures often start with some megadonor and then develop the details, rather than starting with the science and strategies that can best meet objectives.


By early fall of 2021 it was becoming clear we would not raise the funding necessary by the deadline for starting signature collection we had set for ourselves, especially as we had hoped half of the signatures would be collected by volunteers. At that point my consulting work was also getting quite busy, and Denny started running an affordable housing measure in Los Angeles that is now on the ballot.


We left it to Nick with little hope he would raise the necessary funding, but then several donors emerged, including IBEW (electric workers union) and Lyft.


Lyft does have a stake. The state has set a target for Lyft and Uber’s fleets to be cleaner and the targets ramp up through 2030. If those targets are not met it is possible that Lyft would have to offer drivers incentives to purchase more EVs or to induce drivers already with EVs to drive more of the total miles. Of course, everybody wins big on climate and clean air if Lyft and Uber drivers are in EVs. But we should be clear that these drivers don’t benefit in any way that you and I wouldn’t, we will all get the same incentives And Lyft as a company gets absolutely nothing directly. We need these EV investments that will also bring about the quickest and greatest GHG reductions.


The campaign against Prop 30 knew they couldn’t tank the initiative based on its merits. That is why they are misleading voters saying this was “devised by a single corporation”. Now, you know it was not. Find out more here and vote yes on 30. Just as importantly, post and link to this story to help overcome the misinformation and make California the climate leader it needs to be.


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You can view the Zoom forums here, which included these amazing panelists:


Environmental organizations: Breathe California, Breathe SoCal, California League of Environmental Voters, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), Climate Center, ClimatePlan, Climate Resolve, Climate Works, Coalition for Clean Air, Emphysema Foundation of America, Energy Independence Now, Environment California, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenbelt Alliance, Greenlining Institute, Healthy Air Alliance, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, NRDC, Pacific Environment/Ship it Zero, Planning and Conservation League, Policy Link, Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy.


Public entities (participating in the dialogue without endorsement of the idea of a ballot measure): California Air Resource Board, South Coast Air Quality Management District, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, California Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, University of California.


Business entities or associations: Southern California Edison/SCE eMobility, Southern California Gas Company, Clean Energy, GNA, Calstart, Bioenergy Association, LA Clean Tech Incubator, Plug In America, Maritime Technology Association.


Labor organizations: IBEW Local 11, NECA-National Electrical Contractors Association, Jobs to Move America, Utility Workers Union of America.