How to change your city through a ballot measure

Michael Schneider
14 min readMar 10, 2024


Our campaign wrap up video. I still get goosebumps watching the election night part.
The LA Times article from March 6, 2024 when we declared victory

In late 2021, I was frustrated. I had started Streets For All two years earlier, in 2019, to make Los Angeles a more multimodal city. When I started, I didn’t know anything about how local government worked, or how decisions were made. I just knew my City — Los Angeles — was broken from a street safety point of view, and I wanted to change it.

In 2019 I had come across the City of Los Angeles’ Mobility Plan 2035, a visionary plan that the City had adopted in 2015 as the transportation element of their general plan — every city, per state law, has to have a “general plan” that covers things like land use (zoning) and transportation.

The plan envisioned thousands of miles of bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian safety improvements. While not perfect, if implemented, it would be a huge step forward in creating a safer, more multimodal city.

Starting in 2020, we started examining the City’s repaving schedule for each fiscal year (LA’s fiscal year runs from July 1 — June 30), recognizing that the lowest hanging fruit opportunities for getting new bike and bus lanes and pedestrian improvements were when the street had to be re-striped anyway — during repaving. And since Los Angeles repaves about 6% of its streets every year, change could happen quickly.

We made a google sheet cross referencing the mobility plan with the repaving schedule and went council office by council office, asking that they ask LADOT to implement the mobility plan during repaving.

The responses ranged from no answer, to “no” to “we’ll try” to, very occasionally, “yes.” It was also painfully apparent that some council offices had never looked at the mobility plan more than once, and certainly didn’t focus on implementing it.

It was also really clear that StreetsLA — our city agency that repaves streets — wasn’t that coordinated with LADOT — our department of transportation that controls how the streets are used.

As a result, the status quo was to just repave streets and put them back the way they were, mobility plan be damned. And that’s what was happening. Despite our best efforts — the mobility plan was routinely being ignored by the City.

During COVID, LA accelerated repaving (and mostly ignoring the mobility plan)

By 2021, we at Streets For All had lost patience. It shouldn’t be that hard to get a city to follow its own plan! But it was clear asking, begging, and demanding that LA implement their own planned bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian improvements wasn’t just going to make them magically happen.

Our campaign logo

The thinking for Healthy Streets LA — which later became Measure HLA — started in 2021, first as a ballot measure for a multi billion dollar bond that would be used towards transforming hundreds of miles of LA streets into visionary, beautiful complete streets full of trees, lighting, bus shelters and street furniture — well beyond the mobility plan. Our polling was strong and showed it would pass. But just as we were getting ready to file to collect signatures, our attorneys told us the law wasn’t clear on if citizens could obligate a city to take on debt. We were informed that, while the law wasn’t clear on a bond measure, it was clear that citizen-led measures raising money with a parcel tax or sales tax were legal. So we polled it, and the results showed that voters wouldn’t support it.

We were about to throw in the towel, when one of our backers said “what if we just did something that required the city to implement its own plan during repaving, without adding the bells and whistles?”

The concept of needing to do a ballot measure just to have a city implement its own, already adopted plan, seemed insane to me. Yet, it was needed, since LA wasn’t getting it done (they were implementing the mobility plan at a pace that it would take 160 years to fully get done).

Our initial letter approving us to circulate our petition and start gathering signatures.

So we started collecting signatures.

Healthy Streets LA signature station in a local bike shop

The signature gathering was one of the most stressful times of my life. The city only gives you a set amount of time to gather signatures — 120 days — from when you first start. We needed 64,785 signatures (later lowered to about 61,000 after we pointed out the math was wrong to the city). But to get 61,000 valid signatures (City of LA residents, where their name, address, and signature matches their voter registration), you have to collect well above that number. Our estimate was 120,000, assuming 30% would be invalid, with a comfortable ~25% buffer above what we needed just in case.

Initially, we had a $250,000 budget and thought we could rely mostly on our volunteers. We did simple math — over 120 days, we only needed each volunteer to get 20 valid signatures a day, and we only needed 50 people — we started off with over 100.

However, we failed to appreciate how busy people are, and how — despite their commitment to the cause — they couldn’t keep up the pace. About 60 days into our 120 days, the writing was on the wall. I told our backers that unless they were willing to put in substantially more money — $750,000 more was my estimate — that I thought we should cut our losses and call it a day. To my surprise, they all committed to a $1M total budget.

The increased funding allowed us to hire professional signature gatherers, who could do this full time, and our numbers started to substantially grow.

However, we had a problem: since the first half of our signature gathering went so slowly, we weren’t growing our numbers fast enough to hit what we considered a “safe” number within 120 days. We then found out that the city looks at the date of your last signature, and counts backwards 120 days. This meant that we could continue collecting signatures, and while our early signatures wouldn’t count, we’d gain a much greater number of signatures each day.

It took about 145 days, but on August 8, 2022, we submitted nearly 120,000 signatures to the City Clerk (we knew we had at least 80,000 valid signatures, as we had been doing our own quality assurance each day as we went).

We delivered signatures by walking, bike, bus, and car — all the modes in the Mobility Plan
On August 8, 2022, the City Clerk confirmed we had submitted enough signatures to qualify.

After the City Clerk confirmed we had submitted sufficient signatures, it went to the LA City Council. Council had two choices — they could vote to adopt our ordinance outright or send it to the next election, which at this point was March 2024 (we missed the deadline for November 2022 by a few weeks).

Recognizing the opportunity to get safer streets faster, we started asking Councilmembers for their vote in adopting Healthy Streets LA outright, and created “care packages” specific to each Council district, and one for the Mayor. You can see what they looked like here.

The cover page of one of our care packages.
A summary of our day at City Council — where we got pushed to the ballot.

Despite then-Council President Nury Martinez’s opposition, we managed to get seven commitments to vote to adopt outright. We needed eight. When it became clear that we didn’t have eight votes, all Councilmembers voted with the majority to send it to the ballot. Here’s a deeper summary of the day. This gave us a year and a half to organize.

While we already had an impressive coalition (support letters here), we spent 2023 building it up more. We were able to secure many important labor unions in Los Angeles (including the LA County Federation of Labor), nearly every important business organization in Los Angeles (including the LA County Federation of Business, or BizFed), and an incredibly wide array of climate and mobility organizations. At the end of the day, endorsements came from over 50 organizations — including the Los Angeles Times, LAUSD, and LA County Democratic Party.

The final Measure HLA coalition

We also worked on getting elected leaders to support Measure HLA — and are proud that six Councilmembers (including four of the five members on the Transportation Committee), one County Supervisor, multiple Councilmembers from neighboring cities, and a number of State Senators and State Assemblymembers supported our cause.

Councilmembers Hernandez, Raman, Yaroslavsky, Harris-Dawson, Hutt, and Soto-Martinez who endorsed us

We spent the Fall and Winter of 2023 putting together our strategy, which was to focus on how much safer the streets would be if the city implemented its mobility plan. There aren’t enough bike or transit advocates to pass something city-wide, so it can’t just be about bike or bus lanes — and the mobility plan wasn’t just about that either.

We analyzed the data and found out that more than half of the injuries and deaths happened on streets that had planned, but unimplemented treatment on the mobility plan. We looked at examples like Reseda Blvd, which after implementing the mobility plan, saw a 29% reduction in injuries and a 44% increase in local business revenue. We knew that implementing the mobility plan would make the streets safer for everyone.

We decided to focus on a few facts about Los Angeles:

  • A pedestrian is killed every 2 days and injured every 5 hours
  • A pedestrian fatality rate that is 4x the national average
  • Car crashes are the single biggest cause of death for kids
  • More people died from crashes than from homicides in 2023
  • We are at a two-decade high of deaths in our streets (in 2015, when the city passed Vision Zero, 88 pedestrians died. In 2023, 176 — double — were killed)

We created a billboard campaign to launch in early January. We also created television ads, social media ads, videos, a mailer, a one sheet, stickers, yard signs, and every other piece of collateral imaginable.

An example of one of our billboards

We held a press conference with our elected supporters underneath one of our billboards:

At the end of 2023, the City Administrative Officer (sort of like the Chief Financial Officer of the city) released an “impartial” cost estimate of HLA that stated that HLA would cost $2.5B over 10 years — which is the number that went to voters in the Voter Information Guide. He later revised this to $3.1B. The CAO’s analysis was grossly inflated and inaccurate —he included $2B worth of sidewalk repair that HLA wouldn’t mandate, and he estimated the cost of bike lanes at $2M/mile, which is 8x the cost that LADOT said they cost. You can see our full response here.

The opposition on the ballot came from KeepLAMoving, an organization with little funding whose leadership doesn’t even live in the City of LA (and most live out of state!).

Keep LA Moving’s “facts” about HLA
“Facts” about our funding
Keep LA Moving claimed that complete streets led to more fatalities in LA, despite only 5% of the Mobility Plan being implemented, and evidence worldwide that complete streets are safer for everyone.
They leaned into the emergency vehicle argument, posting a video from 2018 showing fire trucks being blocked by too many cars (!) on Venice Blvd.

We worked hard on our ballot statement for the Voter Information Guide, making the case for why voters should support Measure HLA. Once we saw Keep LA Moving’s opposing statement, we prepared our rebuttal. Importantly we had known and respected signers on each statement. For example, when Keep LA Moving claimed that HLA would slow down emergency responders, Pat Butler, a retired assistant fire chief of LAFD, signed our rebuttal.

Our supporters who signed our initial ballot statement.
Our supporters who signed our rebuttal.

You can view the full Voter Information Guide here.

After a relatively quiet January, unfortunately the firefighters union announced their opposition to Measure HLA on February 14. We suspected that City bureaucrats had asked them to help “kill HLA.” Perhaps their upcoming contract negotiations weighed on their minds?

There are two groups of people you never want to oppose you: firefighters and teachers. It was heartbreaking to stand behind them and listen to them disparage us (I was called a communist), the measure (“road diets to nowhere that we can’t afford and will slow fire trucks down”), and the City’s own mobility plan (which LAFD signed off on!).

Thankfully, it wasn’t the LA Fire Department officially doing this, it was their union. And their argument was disputed by the City’s own environmental impact report for the Mobility Plan back in 2015, which stated, if implemented, the Mobility Plan would likely improve response times. They also proposed no alternative solution for solving the record number of deaths in our streets, failing to even acknowledge the problem.

Us bird-dogging the UFLAC press conference on February 14, 2024. Councilmember Traci Park at the podium.

The firefighters then released a well polished ad touting their false claims, and spent $8,000/day promoting it online to voters:

We released a rebuttal video online the next day:

At this point in the campaign, our polling looked promising — we had anticipated the attacks used by the firefighters union and CAO, and after testing their messaging compared to ours, the Yes side still prevailed by a healthy margin. But, we were nervous. We didn’t know if voters would believe their claims, and we didn’t know how much the union was going to spend publicizing them.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Traci Park and UFLAC President Freddy Escobar went on radio and TV frequently, telling voters Measure HLA was going to cost over $3B (false) and that emergency services were going to be slowed (false).

Councilmember Traci Park on FOX 11 eight days before the election.

Luckily, I got to call out the inaccuracies in Traci’s claims a few days later:

Me on Fox 11, five days before the election.

UFLAC put up billboards around LA that looked like this:

One of the UFLAC billboards.

And sent text messages out that looked like this:

We put more our amazing TV ads (view them here) on broadcast and cable. We also created and aired a short rebuttal ad in response to the firefighters union’s claim:

Our rebuttal ad

I was a nervous wreck leading up to March 5. The stakes were SO high. If we lost, the naysayers would be emboldened, political will would go down to close to zero, and LA would likely go backwards in building a safer, more multimodal city. I could see certain Councilmembers standing up saying “See! Voters don’t even want the Mobility Plan!” I could see our dreams for LA going up in smoke.

On the other hand, if we won, especially with a nice margin, it would be a mandate for change. Reluctant City Councilmembers and City staffers would finally see that LA residents want more mobility options and safer streets, and it would set change in motion at city hall. It could also inspire people in other cities across LA County and the country as a whole to do a similar effort where they lived.

Our election night party flier.

We held our election night party in the “tea room” of The Prince, a historic venue in Koreatown. I sat in a corner, unable to really hold a conversation with anyone thanks to my nerves, waiting for it to be 8pm and for the polls to close.

At around 8:20pm, Olga Lexell, who was a key part of our internal campaign team, was frantically hitting refresh on the LA County Registrar’s website, when all of a sudden she yelled “they’re out!”

Our initial vote count

Without thinking, I very impolitely grabbed her laptop out of her hands to see that we were leading with 67% (!) of the vote to 33%. I yelled out that we had won, and the room erupted.

Moments after finding out that we had won.

Technically we hadn’t won yet as there were more votes to count, but we knew that the first batch of results were from voters that had mailed in their ballot before election day — typically, more conservative voters.

The headline I saw just before falling asleep.

We declared victory the next day, on March 6.

A few lessons I learned running my first ever campaign:

  1. A large coalition is key. Throughout the campaign, I often got calls from people that had endorsed us with helpful information for us. And when meeting with Mayor Bass and other electeds, it was very powerful to show support from so many labor and business organizations (who themselves often don’t see eye to eye), and have the endorsements of 40% of City Council. We also partnered with UNITE HERE Local 11 and the LA County Federation of Labor on voter canvassing operations — using their expertise to reach, persuade and turn out thousands of voters.
  2. A campaign is organized chaos. For all of February, I hardly had anything preplanned on my calendar, yet I was busy every second of every day, putting our fires, and responding to the events of the moment. Stress management is key — for me, that was a bike ride in the hills.
  3. Your campaign is often won before it starts. The old saying that cutting down a tree is sharpening your ax for 80% of the time, and then swinging 20% of the time, applies to campaigns. When things were quiet in the fall of 2023, we critically planned our campaign, laid out our messaging, lined up our coalition partners, filmed our commercials, and put contingencies in place for expected attacks. All of this prep allowed us to be extremely effective when we were in full on campaign mode.
  4. An in-house team is key. We decided early on to do things in house, instead of hiring an outside agency. We hired Jeff Millman — who has managed many campaigns and worked for years at City Hall — to be our chief campaign consultant. We hired our own creative team, did our own branding and commercials, did our own social media, and ran our own ads online and on television. As a result, we were extremely quick on our feet, we saved money, and we were able to react to whatever came our way nearly instantly. Our all star in house team was Josh Vredevoogd (Creative Director), Gabe Gaurano (Video Production), Olga Lexell (Coalition Manager/Social Media) and myself. Spencer Slovic at Mycorrhiza ran our digital. Other key people included Edgar Campos (former Executive Director at TRUST South LA), Seamus Garrity (Lighthouse), and Jose Ugarte.
  5. Checking emotions is key. There were moments when I wanted to lash out at opponents, tear down their lies, and call them liars in public. Thankfully, I had a team around me to talk me out of it and help me control my emotions. I am proud that we ran a classy campaign that only focused on facts and truth, and didn’t get into the mud.

I want to thank the hundreds of thousands of Angelenos who voted for Measure HLA — because of you, our city is going to become safer, cleaner, and more multimodal over time. To our elected leaders that stood with us — thank you for your courage and leadership. To our coalition partners — each and every one of you were key. To our army of volunteers — you all made a huge impact, thank you. To my internal team, you guys are all rockstars and I was privileged to work with you.

For anyone who didn’t vote for HLA, I want to say that I understand your concerns about changing our streets, and I will work hard to make sure the City implements its Mobility Plan in a constructive and collaborative way. I hope we can earn your trust as we now move to the implementation phase.

To anyone in any city or town in the US who is interested in mimmicking HLA where you live, I’d love to help you. We plan on open sourcing our campaign materials and strategy, and you are welcome to copy it all. We also plan on opening up a division of Streets For All that is available for consulting to help others.



Michael Schneider

Tali, Mika & Sofi’s dad, Katerina's husband, LA native. Founder, Service. Founder, Streets For All. Board Member, Mid City West Neighborhood Council.