Case Study – Measure M

By 2005, Orange County’s Measure M, a local ½ cent sales tax to fund transportation projects, was nearing the end of its authorized 20-year life. The initial tax had been authorized in 1990 by a bare majority (prior to clarification that such measures required a 2/3 vote) after two prior failures.

It was FSB’s responsibility to help develop the Measure M Renewal Plan and design and manage a public education campaign that ultimately resulted in the plan being placed on the ballot. The project entailed public opinion research (including surveys and focus groups), earned media, coalition development, paid media, grassroots, and a massive public outreach effort on behalf of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).

Working with the OCTA, FSB needed to design an expenditure plan for the renewed Measure M (M2) that would have broad public support and satisfy diverse and sometimes divergent constituencies. The Measure M2 Renewal Plan represented nearly two years of collaborative efforts by the OCTA Board, the 20/20 and Citizen’s Oversight Committees, the private sector and the Orange County community at large (including, as mentioned, strong involvement from the environmental community).Once the Plan was developed, FSB moved into Phase II of the project, which entailed a comprehensive and aggressive public education component. In order for the Measure M2 Renewal Plan to go before voters, a majority of Orange County’s individual city councils (representing a majority of the population) needed to vote to place it on the ballot. At the conclusion of this phase, FSB had garnered support of all 34 cities and over 200 groups, companies, associations, unions, elected officials, environmental groups and community leaders that pledged their support for the Plan.

As part of the plan development phase of the Measure M renewal, FSB coordinated and participated in transportation and political briefings for all 34 Orange County cities, including almost every city council member, city manager, public works director, and transportation manager. These included detailed discussion of the transportation needs and politics of every community in the county.

In placing the renewal of Measure M on the ballot, the legal requirement indicated a majority of the cities representing a majority of the population in the County had to vote to approve placing the measure on the ballot. Instead, FSB helped get all 34 cities to vote to place the measure on the ballot, and all but three city council members in the whole county voted for the Measure.

After the Plan was placed on the ballot, FSB was retained by the private campaign committee overseeing the election campaign for the ballot measure itself. FSB served as the lead strategists and managers for the campaign. Tactics to reach Orange Count voters included public opinion outreach, targeted direct mail, grassroots and coalition activation, earned media, and an award-winning, interactive website that allowed voters to click anywhere on an Orange County map to see transportation improvement projects (freeways, surface streets, bike paths, pedestrian walkways) within their communities. The task was daunting, as FSB faced a very conservative electorate in Orange County, a strong anti-tax climate and a souring mood of voters in the early days of the housing bust and recession. Despite this, FSB ran what was referred to as a “nearly flawless” campaign and Measure M was renewed by nearly 70 percent of Orange County voters.

The campaign was later named by the Orange County Public Relations Society as the “Campaign of the Year” for 2006. It remains perhaps our firm’s proudest campaign accomplishment.

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