Build South Central Campaign Puts Phoenix Light Rail Back on Track
Reactivating community supporters to defeat out-of-state funded opposition effort to kill the South Central Light Rail Extension in Phoenix
The voter-approved South Central Light Rail Extension had everyone on board, including the federal government, ready to release nearly $600 million to support the $1 billion project. The 5.5 mile South Central line is the next stop in Phoenix’s $31.5 billion transportation plan will create exceptional access for South Phoenix residents to the 26-mile light rail system.
However, in February, 2018, as the South Central extension was ready to begin its final planning phase, a small group of local business owners who coined themselves “Four Lanes or No Train” launched a campaign to derail the project. The group was spreading false information to residents.
As the fight heated up, the 4-lanes group evolved into Building a Better Phoenix, a group solely focused on killing light rail outright. While the group gave the appearance of a local grassroots effort, it was funded by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an affiliate of the Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity. The small Phoenix group was part of the national effort to kill any taxpayer funded transit or transportation projects throughout the country.
Suddenly, the South Central Light Rail project was in jeopardy. The opposition was nearly successful in completely killing the South Central Extension during a June 20, 2018 City Council meeting. But last-minute efforts to engage pro-light rail advocates kept the project alive. The City Council voted on a 90-day delay to reevaluate the lane configurations and directed city staff and Valley Metro to conduct additional community engagement.
The vote by the council caused the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to reevaluate the cities commitment to the project and asked Valley Metro to not submit paperwork to further the project. The South Central Extension is under a strict timeline with the FTA meaning if the South Central Light Rail project is changed or altered in any way, the entire project would be placed into jeopardy and South Phoenix could lose a $1 billion investment (including $595 million in federal funds), permanently. This was just what the opposition wanted.
The Phoenix City Council scheduled a special council meeting for September 26, 2018 for a final vote on the issue. Decades of progress hung in the balance. South Phoenix was at risk of losing a $1billion investment and transformational access to the rest of the city.
Strategy: Build South Central Campaign
Just five weeks before the decisive vote, Resolute launched the Build South Central Campaign. Our team partnered with the South Phoenix community, reenergized light rail supporters and waged an aggressive media relations effort to secure the council’s approval.
This hard-hitting public affairs campaign focused on securing the City Council votes required to approve the two-lane South Central Extension as submitted to the FTA. The campaign included coalition building; outreach and engagement with residents, community organizations and public officials; extensive social media and an exhaustive media relations effort.
The campaign was designed to build momentum and allow support to grow throughout the South Phoenix community – peaking at Rally for the Rails News Conference held the day before the critical City Council vote and achieving its full force at the September 25 City Council meeting.
Outreach and engagement: A campaign website – BuildSouthCentral.com – was created as the communications hub for the effort. The home page immediately directed visitors to “Send a Letter” to the Phoenix City Council and tell them you support the South Central extension. The website included facts about the project and ongoing media stories.
Resolute’s team of outreach and communications specialists built a coalition of more than 300 Phoenix and South Phoenix residents, business community and business owners, community organizations, faith-based organizations, elected officials and civic leaders.
The campaign aggressively captured and projected the frustration and exasperation of South Phoenix residents who had been promised a transformational light rail system only to see it derailed by a small group, funded by out-of state anti-light rail opponents.
Media Relations: Resolute met with local and national reporters, detailing the community need for light rail, and connecting reporters to community members and prominent supporters. Resolute carefully outlined how the opposition was funded and detailed how the opposition’s 4-lane option was nothing more than a diversion to kill the federal funds for light rail – and the entire South Central Extension.
The campaign was gathering support and momentum. South Phoenix residents and businesses were coming together with an urgent sense of purpose.
On September 24, 2018, the day before the City Council vote, that urgency found a voice. Our team organized a Rally for the Rails news conference featuring more than 50 supporters. Not only did we secure light rail supporter former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, we helped bring together the two mayoral candidates Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela. These two fierce competitors were willing to stand together and champion the South Central extension along with other prominent South Phoenix leaders.
Nearly every news outlet attended and ran stories about the rally that evening.
Outcome: The day of the special City Council Meeting, our team prepared our speakers and educated the media. The coalition presented the City Council members with a stack of over 1,200 letters from South Phoenix community members in support of the Light Rail Extension.
After a lengthy meeting that heard from both sides, our coalition clearly demonstrated the South Phoenix community was overwhelmingly in favor of the Light Rail extension. And the Council listened. The Phoenix City Council voted 6-2 in favor of the voter-approved South Central Extension with 2-lanes as submitted to the FTA. After decades of advocating for better transportation access and opportunity, South Phoenix is going to get its Light Rail extension