Measure B transit spending plan for Santa Clara County comes under fire
Leaders from across the county are incensed by a proposal from the transit authority that would redirect the next decade of funds from a sales tax measure— approved by voters to improve transportation and congestion throughout Santa Clara County — entirely to BART.
In 2016, voters approved Measure B, a 30-year, half-cent sales tax. Collection began April 1, 2017. Over the next 30 years, the tax is anticipated to generate $6.3 billion.
Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) recently made public a 10-year plan that saw all new proceeds of the sales tax go to BART expansions throughout San Jose. Officials from many Santa Clara County cities expressed displeasure with this plan, calling the measure a bait-and-switch, among other things.
The Board of Supervisors Dec. 15 voted unanimously against the proposal and told VTA staff to go back to the drawing board.
When Measure B made the ballot, voters were told proceeds would be split according to an allocation formula across nine categories, including streets/roads, bicycle/pedestrian projects, the State Route 85 corridor, transit operations, county expressways, highway interchanges, Caltrain grade separation and capacity improvements and finally the BART II extension.
“VTA’s proposed 2016 Measure B 10-Year Outlook Base Scenario contains built-in assumptions that are unacceptable,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian. “The built-in assumptions include the BART Phase II project being the highest priority for the next 10 years, providing it with first call on the Measure B revenues.”
The primary goals of the measure are to provide meaningful congestion relief throughout the county and improve road pavement conditions.
Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez is also chair of the VTA Board of Directors. Chavez acknowledged the plan was not vetted thoroughly enough before being widely distributed.
Simitian said he wanted the supervisors’ vote to send a message to the VTA specifically to distribute funds more evenly over the next decade among all nine programs. This would provide the consistency needed to keep voter trust, opponents to the original plan said.
“This is a smorgasbord of ballot measures,” Howard Miller, former mayor of Saratoga, told supervisors. “To garner support throughout the valley, it has something on there for everyone.”
Of all the projects on the ballot for Measure B, Miller said, the only item that polled higher than the required two-thirds vote to pass was funding for local street and road maintenance.
“My city and many other cities are dependent on money from the VTA in order to maintain our local streets and roads,” Miller said. “It is going to be a challenging situation to fund BART, but from Saratoga’s perspective, it should not be funded on the backs of local streets and roads.”
Chavez clarified these 10-year plans are revised every two years as funds come in and as they are disbursed. Due to the large nature of the BART project, “predictability” of funding is needed to plan for construction.
In letters dated Dec. 14, VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez addressed concerns from mayors, city council members and other officials across the county. The same language was included in responses to officials in Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Los Altos Hills and Los Gatos.
“We will give ongoing, public presentations and discussions on proposed 10-year options during VTA’s various workshops and committee meetings to achieve the best allocation plan that addresses our intermediate and long-term needs,” Fernandez wrote. “We appreciate your continued participation in this 10-year vision process and are committed to providing an open and transparent approach as we work together to find the most effective way to deliver all of the programs and projects in 2016 Measure B.”
To date, the VTA has distributed about $750 million across all of the Measure B project categories.