First of two web pages
Santa Clara County's 1/2% sales tax extension, Measure A, passed November 7th with a super majority of 71.5%. This was quite a remarkable victory for transit supporters and environmentalists. The measure was actively opposed by three of the County's five Supervisors, including the two having the most responsibility for setting transportation policy in the county.
Both Jim Beall, chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and Blanca Alvarado, chair of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) did all they could to defeat the measure. South County Supervisor Don Gage also opposed the measure. North County Supervisor Joe Simitian was neutral. Only Supervisor Pete McHugh supported it.
Measure A is 100% for transit and will raise an estimated $6 Billion over its 30-year life. It will fund BART from Fremont to San Jose and Santa Clara; build the San Jose Airport people mover, which will connect the new terminal to the BART/Caltrain Santa Clara station; help bring about the electrified Caltrain "mini Bullet" that will travel from San Jose to San Francisco in 47 minutes; fund an already planned light rail line and at least two additional major lines; help bring about the Dumbarton Bridge rail service; and improve our arterial bus lines. In short, it is an environmentalist's dream.
A surprising chain of events lead to the creation of this measure.
San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales won his election on a platform that included a rail link to the Fremont BART station. After his election he began talking about bringing BART to San Jose. At the Measure A election victory party, Mayor Gonzales credited an MTS member, Henry Servin, for convincing him to support BART to San Jose.
The proposal was considered heresy by Supervisors Beall and Alvarado, who seemed to resent an idea which was not even being considered by either of the transportation organizations they were supposed to be leading. Surprising everyone, Gonzales convinced Governor Gray Davis to allocate $760 million to the BART project, on the condition that local funding be approved within one year.
At this point, the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG) did a poll, the results of which must have been a shock to Beall and Alvarado. The poll indicated that 70% of the likely voters in Santa Clara County would support a sales tax to build the BART extension.
SVMG saw an opportunity and began to put together a list of projects to be added to the BART project, in a ballot measure they proposed for November. Predictably, they added in their favorite freeway expansions. They also included the East San Jose Light Rail (LRT) extension and a serious upgrade to Caltrain, to include electrification. Unpredictably, they also added an Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) system for the San Jose Airport, a project MTS has long supported that was recently approved in principal by San Jose but with no funding identified. It was, at that point, a 10-year measure.
The staff of the VTA, which is the County agency that has the contradictory roles of financing roads and operating the transit system, then woke up, did their job, and introduced an alternate list. It was the same as the SVMG list except that it had more money for freeways and did not include the Airport AGT.
But Beall and Alvarado would have no part of a measure that was built around an idea they had already publicly opposed - BART to San Jose, which they claimed was "too expensive."
Now things got interesting. The mayor, using the incredible clout of the SVMG, got the VTA Board to approve, by an 11 to 1 vote (only Alvarado dissented), a letter proclaiming that if the County didn't put a BART tax on the ballot, they would put together their own measure. However, according to the State's enabling legislation (their charter), their measure could not include highways and would need two-thirds for approval.
On the other hand, the County could only approve a ballot measure with three or more votes and the two stubborn supervisors would not give in, even with the threat of the VTA measure hanging over their heads. Both seemed certain a measure that was 100% transit could never achieve the super majority required.
MTS was not sure for a while that we wanted to support Measure A. This is because the VTA passed a resolution that all of the discretionary funds allocated to transit would be switched to highways, if Measure A won. This will amount to some $2 Billion dollars over 30 years. However, your MTS Board finally concluded that we would work to correct this problem after the election. We decided that if the measure failed, the next measure was likely to be far worse.
The Peninsula Rail 2000 group and the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club also opposed the Measure, believing that BART would take all of the money. Norm Mineta, one of the many prominent backers of Measure A, is now Secretary of Transportation.
- Mike Bullock
Also see from MTS: Santa
Clara County Measure A: Vote Yes for BART, LRT, Caltrain.
and: Extend BART from Fremont to San Jose!
It had the support of just about everyone, including the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. This was due to the perception that the road portion would be beneficial to the environment. Of course, [we] know that the highway lobby always tries to claim that their projects will benefit the environment.
There was also a picture painted of A/C Transit [the bus system] being in dire straits if it didn't get the money from Measure B. This threat is always part of the argument for a transit measure, no matter how small the proportion devoted to transit. In other words, the public is always tricked by not being allowed to vote separately for transit & road projects. The public overwhelmingly wants transit, not more roads. But they don't understand the magnitude of the harm that road construction causes.
- Mike Vandeman, MTS member, Berkeley
TV ads promoting Measure B showed BART and other transit. Not one picture or mention of the fact that 41% was for roads, including freeway widening. The environmental groups misleadingly claimed that "only 18%" went for highways by excluding "arterial roads" in the count. In fact, 41% went for roads. They also avoided the use of the word "freeway" when in fact freeways 680, 580 and 238 will get added lanes. There was a deliberate toning down, even hiding, of the freeway projects to make Measure B palatable to people who consider themselves environmentalist.
Sierra Club chapter leadership also mentioned that the local bus system "desperately" needs the money. My repeated argument that they would get more, almost double, by separating into two measures (one for highways and the other for transit, bicycle, pedestrian) was ignored. A deal was made very early between the "environmentalist leadership" and moneyed highway construction interests that the latter would get at least 40% of the money. The latter also provided the campaign financing, apparently 40% being profitable enough to handsomely recoup their investment in the campaign.
- Akos Szoboszlay, MTS President
Also see from MTS: Alameda County Measure B: Vote No on 41% sales tax subsidy for automobiles and trucks.
In the Bay Area, almost every county is likely to see a battle over local transportation measures over the next decade - with existing taxes due to expire in Contra Costa, San Mateo, and San Francisco counties, and previous attempts in Marin and Sonoma counties. Fresno's current sales tax for freeways will also expire.
We need to thwart any more illogical and wrong alliances of a local Sierra Club chapter and highway construction interests. If you can help, contact MTS.
MTS has been right all along regarding sales taxes for transportation in Santa Clara County. We have always contended the following.
1) For many good reasons (for instance, cars are trashing planet earth) it was poor public policy to make driving artificially cheap by using sales tax money to build or even maintain roads.
2) Given a choice, voters would vote for transit and so we favored having measures that were 100% transit on the ballot.
3) Building transportation projects encourages their use: Whereas freeways just congest and increase pollution, guideway transit adds trains and reduces costs per rider. (See graph of "gravity transportation model" below.)
Here's what happened. [Background: All of these sales taxes are 1/2% sales taxes for transportation, primarily put together and backed by the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG). They were all supported by all of the major political figures in the County, including every County Supervisor, except for the amazing year 2000 ballot measure, which was opposed by 3 of 5 County Supervisors.]
In 1976 voters approved, by 54%, a 100% transit measure. This tax is permanent and has been used primarily to fund the bus system. The problem is that buses are not very attractive to riders and have a very high operating cost.
In 1984 voters approved, by 56%, a 100% highway expansion measure. Many of our pro-transit politicians felt obligated to support this measure in payment to the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group for their support of our first light rail project. Your author will never forget getting called to County Supervisor Rod Diridon's office, along with other activists, and being told of all the terrible things that would happen if we didn't either support the measure or be neutral. The point made was that the special interests would use the existing transit sales tax and change it for highways if this measure for highways didn't pass. It passed, but then they tried to do just that at the State level the following year. This was termed a "double-cross" by the Transit Union, which supported Measure A.
However, MTS didn't buy it. We opposed the measure as best we could. The Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club also opposed it, but only at the very last minute. They were quite apologetic in their Loma Prietan article that stated their opposition. In the same issue, they printed a letter supporting the measure by an aide to Supervisor Tom Legan, who was concurrently Marketing Manager for Kaiser Cement, the largest cement producer in the region. (Legan also was the only supervisor that voted to prohibit bicycles.)
In 1992 voters approved, by 54%, a 10-year measure that was about 55% transit. MTS opposed this measure. The Sierra Club did not. It was ruled to be in violation of Proposition 13 and so no money was collected.
In 1996 voters approved by 52%, a 10-year measure that is about 55% transit. MTS opposed this measure until the last week when we voted to be neutral. The Sierra Club went along with the Manufacturing Group on this one.
In 2000, voters approved, by 71.5%, a 30-year measure that is 100% transit. MTS supported it. The Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter opposed it.
- Mike Bullock