Cities join forces to back transportation-funding plan

Palo Alto prepares to endorse allocations of $6 billion from proposed county tax measure

With Santa Clara County cruising toward a November transportation tax measure, Palo Alto and eight other cities in the north county and west valley are rallying behind a new plan for how the $6 billion from the measure would be spent.

Officials from the cities have been holding meetings in recent months and lobbying the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to pursue a regional strategy for transportation improvements, including a system-wide plan that would integrate mass-transit initiatives, highway fixes and community-level transit services. The measure, which is proposing a 1/2 cent sales-tax increase, is projected to raise about $6 billion over 30 years.

Now, the nine cities -- Palo Alto, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Saratoga and Sunnyvale -- are coalescing around a plan that they hope will raise their stature in negotiations with the VTA. The details of the conceptual plan were hashed out by city representatives during a series of meetings since late 2015. On Jan. 8, city officials agreed to adopt an "advocacy position" that each would take to his or her city council for approval. The Palo Alto council is scheduled to consider this plan on Feb. 8.

Much like a prior proposal from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a business-advocacy organization that is leading the drive for the tax measure, the plan from the nine cities would devote $1.2 billion for the extension of BART to San Jose, a project that has eaten up roughly 80 percent of the revenue from the last two ballot measures. The cities' plan, however, also specifies other funding priorities. It would give preference to Caltrain improvements, allocating $1.3 billion: $400 million for projects that would increase the number of passengers the rail line could serve, such as longer trains and station enhancements, and $900 million for a countywide "grade-separation" program. The latter would submerge the train tracks under street crossings, or vice versa. It's an initiative that has emerged in the past year as one of Palo Alto's top transportation priorities.

In addition to the rail projects, the cities' funding plan would devote $1 billion to local streets and roads, funds that each jurisdiction could use for either maintenance or new projects. Another $1 billion would be used for improving county expressways, while $500 million would be allocated to the "streets and highways" category, which focuses on "regionally significant roadways," according to a new report from Palo Alto's Department of Planning and Community Environment.

In another departure from prior proposals, the cities coalition proposes to allocate $500 million for congestion relief and "transportation-demand management" programs, which aim to get people out of their cars and into other modes of transportation.

While the agreement between the cities allows each to make its own tweaks to the overall plan, the idea is to present a unified vision and increase the bargaining power of those jurisdictions that are farthest from the county's power center in San Jose.

The concept plan has already secured the unanimous endorsement of the Palo Alto council's Rail Committee, which voted on Jan. 27 to forward the discussion to the full council. At the meeting, members of the committee lauded the proposal, particularly its emphasis on Caltrain improvements and traffic-reduction measures. They acknowledged, however, that some of the spending categories (including "expressway") remain vague and are subject to further refinement.

Councilman Tom DuBois said he supports improving the interchange at Page Mill Road and Interstate 280 to accommodate more cars and create better bike pathways. Others on the council have been more skeptical about the county proposal to add new lanes on Page Mill, unless the additional lanes are carpool lanes.

Everyone on the Rail Committee agreed, however, that allocating funds from the tax measure for reducing the number of solo car commuters would be a good investment. DuBois recommended devoting $500 million -- or about 8 percent -- of the tax-measure funds to congestion relief. Transportation-demand management is cheaper than construction, he noted. Mayor Pat Burt concurred.

"We want to see those dollars used for congestion relief in a broad sense, with traffic management and transportation-demand-management measures, rather than merely expressway expansion and capacity," Burt said at the Rail Committee meeting.

Committee members agreed that some of the definitions in the concept plan will need to be hashed out further. They also agreed that changing the allotments at this point could jeopardize the coalition, which is why they unanimously approved the plan as presented.

"If there is a need for north county and west valley cities to show a unified front at this stage, knowing that this isn't written in stone, I'm comfortable with that," Committee Chair Marc Berman said.

If the full council concurs and adopts the coalition's position, it will follow in the footsteps of Mountain View's council, which voted 6-1 (with John Inks dissenting) to support the plan. The councils of Campbell and Cupertino are also scheduled to take up the subject in early February.

Whether all the councils get behind the tentative proposal, everyone expects further changes down the line. Councilman Greg Scharff, who in late January attended a meeting with officials from other coalition cities and with Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said he expects the discussion in advance of the ballot measure to be an "iterative process." Yet he also called the funding plan "a really positive proposal" and urged his colleagues not to make any changes that would undermine the cities' negotiating position.

"We should strongly support (getting) as close as we can get to this as possible," Scharff said.

Related content:

Palo Alto seeks larger benefits from 2016 tax measure

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21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

Transportation for those of us in North Santa Clara County (and those of us just south or San Mateo) are treated very poorly. Palo Alto and Mountain View do not coordinate their shuttles at all across the San Antonio Berlin Wall.

We cannot even get decent transportation options to get us to SJC or SFO.

Public transportation should not be viewed for getting poor people who cannot afford a car. Public transportation should be viewed as getting everyone with a regular routine commute or who needs to get somewhere busy such as an airport or a sports venue to where they need to get in a more efficient manner than private vehicle in an affordable way in reasonable comfort with wifi and sensible routing.

This is far from the way it is now and unless the powers that be start looking at this from a practical point of view, then there will be no point to the money being invested.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of University South
on Feb 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm


Check the Os. I think $400,000 is $ 400,000,000 and so forth.



8 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2016 at 10:14 am

You hit the nail on the head, regional coordination is so lacking and one of the biggest problems.

Although I really think we need improvements, I'm alarmed when I see this kind of funding before the plan, that's when government agencies run amok. For awhile it looked like we were going to have to fight off an underpass situation right at Gunn High School, and then not long after that idiotic idea of turning El Camino into an Expressway with one lane dedicated to buses. It seemed like an agency desperate to spend money before it ran out. Those things get legs that tromp on citizens when agencies have a lot of money they have to spend, without first having an effixient plan before the voters.

If self driving cars come into their own, the era of giant often underutilized and inflexible transit may be over. We shouldn't continue to work our infrastructure around antiquated systems and technologies that require huge investments and never catch on without more major expenditures.)

18 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Unless there is a binding, and enforceable part to this new sales tax, SVLG will most likely divert all or most to the BART tunnel to downtown San Jose. Talk is cheap and words on paper are meaningless unless they dictate how any new taxes are spent. Baring such an arrangement, I'll vote no.

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Feb 7, 2016 at 9:41 am

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thanks, Steve. Sorry for the error. I corrected it.

12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:42 am

I agree that public transit is awful in Palo Alto (and Menlo Park). We have no BART, no light rail, Caltrain service is spotty at the California Ave and San Antonio stations, and VTA bus service is been dramatically reduced in recent years. That leaves us with massively increasing car traffic, which is good for no one. It is about time that local government stepped up to do something about this.

4 people like this
Posted by re: EnvisionSV
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Very illuminating to look at the roster of VTA's ad hoc committee "Envision Silicon Valley"

Web Link

The Committee's purpose is to examine the transportation needs of Silicon Valley and guide the creation of a potential transportation ballot initiative.

... not a single representative from North County.

6 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 8, 2016 at 10:40 am

An excellent, efficient, and effective regional transportation system will also help relieve the housing situation.

22 people like this
Posted by Steve Ly
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Here comes Carl Guardino and merry band of crony capitalists at the grossly misnamed "Silicon Valley 'Leadership' Group," hoping to sucker those of modest means into raising their taxes once again, despite the fact that voters have already done so multiple times. Over the last several elections, voters in Santa Clara County have passed multiple tax and fee increases including VTA's 2000 Measure A ½-cent and 2008 measure B ¼-cent sales taxes, Santa Clara County's Measure A 1/8 cent sales tax, the state prop 30 ¼ cent sales tax and the 2010 Measure B Vehicle Registration Fee of $10. Additionally, we're on the hook to pay back numerous state bond issues including high speed rail, last year's Proposition 1 water bond and the infrastructure bonds of 2006.

Before increasing taxes YET AGAIN, waste needs to be removed from transportation projects. For example, VTA needs to eliminate waste and "gold plating" of the BART extension's cost by reducing the scope to eliminate duplicate facilities. Specifically, we need to eliminate the redundant and wasteful section between the San Jose and Santa Clara Caltrain stations. The BART segment from the San Jose to Santa Clara Caltrain stations would duplicate both the existing Caltrain line and VTA's 22 and 522 buses to a station that has approximately 1000 riders each weekday. This is extremely wasteful.

Why don't the wealthy high-rollers in the "Leadership Group" suggest taxing their rich companies and leave the little guy alone for a change?

Like this comment
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2016 at 1:56 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 8, 2016 at 7:12 pm

We can't even get from Palo Alto to SFO efficiently. Unbelievable that Samtrans dropped the KX line from Palo Alto to all three terminals at SFO. Where was our city government when that happened? Where are our priorities? Public transportation in the Bay Area is a mess. Until we effectively link up our cities with fast, frequent, efficient and comfortable mass transit our traffic, parking and environmental problems will only get worse. The writing is on the wall. WE MUST IMPROVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION -- not a little, but a lot! Build it and they will come.

Like this comment
Posted by Drew
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 27, 2016 at 5:20 pm

@Resident is absolutely correct. Regional coordination is one of the biggest problems in the entire Bay Area. When a few locals can torpedo a regional initiative, it makes coordination almost impossible. Example: the decision on the completion of 238 from 580 to 680 was voted on only by the local cities, guaranteeing that the NIMBYs could kill it, with the consequence that 880 remains the only north-south arterial in the East Bay. Transit agencies are mostly parochial in outlook, demonstrated by how terrible they are at coordinating timetables, payment systems and planning efforts.

@Sense: Detailed studies of the impact of self-driving cars has shown a far smaller reduction in traffic than expected, mostly because it doesn't reduce the total number of cars enough. Unfortunately, it won't help; transit systems will still be required. Efficient, speedy and predictable, versus the cheapest option, buses getting stuck in traffic.

@Steve Ly is totally on target about the Santa Clara BART station. That station's purported adjacency to SJC is dishonest, since it's on the opposite side of the airport runways from the terminals! That station looks like a trojan horse for an enormously costly and duplicative BART route up the Peninsula. If BART wants to improve its service, it can instead spend those dollars implementing express tracks on its longer routes to improve speeds, similar to what Caltrain did years ago with the Baby Bullets.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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