New citizens group to craft tax measure for transportation

Looking ahead to 2018, Palo Alto council agrees to form stakeholder committee

Palo Alto officials continued their drive toward a local transportation measure on Monday night when they agreed to form a stakeholder committee that will craft the measure.

The 16-member committee will be similar in some ways to the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission formed in 2010 to survey the city's infrastructure needs and come up with proposals to fund priority projects. It will be composed of business owners, residents and transportation experts, and its charge will be to bring forward a report to the council by November of next year.

The goal would be to bring a viable transportation measure to the voters in 2018.

By an 8-0 vote, with Tom DuBois absent, the council established the group to “determine a funding plan that will achieve significant reductions in congestion and single-occupancy vehicle trips in the community.” While a local business tax is expected to be part of the funding, the group will also consider parking revenues, grants and sales-tax measures. It would also consider best practices for reducing traffic and come up with its own proposals for minimizing car commuting among local workers and the community at large.

Mayor Pat Burt and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff agreed the infrastructure-committee model is a good one to follow, though in this case members would have interest and expertise in transportation. Burt also pointed, as a precedent, to the South of Forest Area plan, a land-use document for downtown neighborhood that was forged after intense collaboration by area stakeholders (Burt and Councilwoman Karen Holman were both part of that effort).

The new stakeholder group will include representatives from the newly formed Palo Alto Transportation Management Association and from Stanford Research Park, which has recently formed its own trip-reduction collaborative. The committee will also include a commercial-property owner, a small-business owner, a medium-sized-business owner, and experts in transportation, bicycling, affordable housing and nonprofits (with preference to Palo Alto residents in all cases). There would be a representative from the Palo Alto Unified School District, from Stanford Healthcare (or Stanford Shopping Center) and three residents (one from downtown and two from elsewhere in the city).

The council also agreed the committee should have non-voting members representing the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City of East Palo Alto.

Burt proposed the membership criteria and his colleagues largely embraced the suggested list. Most of the members will be appointed by the council, though the transportation associations and the school district will be expected to choose their own representatives. Burt suggested that an important goal will be to find members who are “committed to the outcome” of pursuing a tax measure to pay for transportation. So far, he noted, the business community has been largely opposed to the proposal.

“The support we get from businesses is that they see this as a major problem to their existential well-being,” Burt said. “My hope is that we're going to have enough enlightened business owners who will see that it's in their interests to solve this problem and that if we don't solve it, we're all toast.”

His colleagues proposed minor modifications to the process but basically accepted Burt's proposed framework. Councilman Cory Wolbach made the case for considering other types of funding measures so that the committee's purview “isn't pre-emptively limited to only a business tax.”

Councilman Greg Schmid, who like Burt is terming out at the end of this year, said he was somewhat worried about the length of time it would take to develop the new report. Recent stakeholder committees, including the group that came up with the infrastructure plan and the one that surveyed options for Cubberley Community Center, took more than a year to complete their task.

Holman also said she was concerned about the timing and lobbied for a June deadline for the new report. Others agreed that given the complexity of the topic and the wide range of opinions among stakeholders, the effort will likely take longer.

“I think we're going to have a bunch of stakeholders; they'll have different interests,” Burt said. “They'll need to debate, study and explore and flush things out.”


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


25 people like this
Posted by Who Pays?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2016 at 10:37 am

If the citizens group to craft the tax measure for transportation committee comes up with a tax measure that spreads the burden fairly between residents and businesses based on how much of the problem they caused, that's fine, but given Palo Alto's history of putting the burden of expanding business on the shoulders of residents, I'm wary.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2016 at 10:52 am

This sounds like moving in the right direction, but unless it involves our neighbors, particularly Menlo and more importantly Mountain View, then it is not going to get anywhere.

Unless we are specifically looking at something to ease school commutes (which is a good starting point) or looking at dedicated shuttles from parking lots at 280 and 101 directly into business districts, then what is the point?

Regular commuters are definitely those who will find transit useful and whether they are commuting to Foothill College, Google, Facebook, or East Palo Alto to downtown or Cal Ave, then I can't see how intown transportation will make a dent in the problem.

25 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2016 at 10:53 am

So are we expected to pay for the county tax measure which may not get us anything and then pay for a local tax measure to fix our transportation problems. Great way to go Palo Alto.

9 people like this
Posted by Ann Kelly
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

It looks as though major demographics are being considered (shoppers, students, patients etc) but I hope there is someone on the committee who specifically has the interests of the growing number of senior citizens at heart.

22 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2016 at 11:23 am

This group "would also consider best practices for reducing traffic." I wonder if they'll consult with the "traffic experts" that screwed up North California Avenue and Middlefield Road by placing bollards and traffic cones up and down both streets resulting in backups nearly all day. Making a left turn from N. California onto Middlefield Road is difficult and dangerous to say the least and reducing Middlefield from two lanes to one has proven to be a nightmare.

And they want us to pay for the incompetence and poor judgement with a tax hike? Give me a break.

10 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2016 at 11:27 am

Annette is a registered user.

PACSAILOR raises a good point: is this tax measure to be pursued regardless of the outcome of Measure B? I thought that a major selling point of the 30 year tax hike proposed in B is that the funds raised would be used on projects that would provide needed relief throughout Santa Clara Valley. Are we to expect a tax in addition to that 30 year tax (assuming it passes)? Or is the Council going to wait two weeks to see what happens with B?

1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Is the expectation that the committee will come up with a plan that includes specific ways to help mitigate the problem, costs associated with that, and a funding plan? That definitely sounds like a year's worth of work.

If I were on the committee I would ask my usual fact finding questions first, before launching off for solutions. Questions would include:

How many single occupancy drivers (vehicles) are we talking about?

Where are they coming from? North, south, east, west?

How far are they commuting?

What are the most congested traffic areas?

Local shuttles: What is the ridership level? It may be too low to warrant trying to expand it...maybe some tweaking of schedules and routing.

What is the preferred method of funding? And for what? What will we be paying for?

Is this a fallback position if TMA doesn't work out? What will this offer that they haven't already talked about? And again, who pays for it?

I think the main problem is caused by drivers outside of our community, not by local drivers. They're just the ones impacted by it.

More shuttle service: I like that idea of having parking lots in the I-280 and 101 interchanges.

Funding: First, the cost. It must be determined, or estimated, before any funding proposals are considered. Businesses are tired of getting hit by taxes, so that won't sit well with them. No, on sales taxes, a regressive tax on the poor. That's one of my main beefs with Measure B. The low wage earners that have to commute will have to pay the sales tax which also applies to gasoline that they rely on to get to PA to work for us. Plus the gas sales tax is a tax on taxes. Double taxed.

I don't argue with forming the committee. It's always good to hear inputs from many sources on how to solve problems in our community. I haven't kept score on the track record of those types of committees. I've heard of some successes. Hope this one will turn out that way.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ Annette

Good post. I forgot to bring up Measure B and it's possible (most probable) impact/conflict with our TMA and our new, to be formed committee, having different viewpoints and goals. Maybe we're paying too much money for our governments' (city and county) and local committees' great ideas. I hope there will be collaboration on the effort, and not just different groups spending money with no results.

2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 26, 2016 at 1:40 pm

There is no overlap between Measure B and this.

B is to address county-wide issues. This I tax is to improve transportation within Palo Alto.

5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Chris. This is not meant as an observation, not a criticism: there have been numerous suggestions made in various forums and we have a TMA and staff dedicated to this issue. Seems to me expecting a report by June is reasonable. But if B passes I would question the appetite/support for an additional tax.

1 person likes this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Annette is a registered user.


Thank you, Chris. This is meant as an observation, not a criticism: there have been numerous suggestions made in various forums and we have a TMA and staff dedicated to this issue. Seems to me expecting a report by June is reasonable. But if B passes I would question the appetite/support for an additional tax.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2016 at 5:53 am

Stop acting so naive. "We can make traffic go away.... just give us more money."

Extra taxes are never the solution to anything. Its just (instead of earning it).

Free market solutions, folks.

5 people like this
Posted by MB
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2016 at 3:21 pm

If Measure B passed, we're not going to see a dime of it. It's just like the two previous VTA taxes (2000 and 2008) that went to San Jose projects like BART. VTA conned our naive environmentalist council into supporting Measure B by promising money for Caltrain grade separations, but those funds will likely go to projects that are already "shovel ready" in Sunnyvale (Mary Ave.) and Mountain View (Rengstorff Ave.) It will take years for Palo Alto to decide how to grade separate the train crossings, and by then all the Measure B money will be gone. You're a fool to believe San Jose will share any of the Measure B loot with Palo Alto.

After the election, it will become clear that Measure B was a rip-off for Palo Alto. So it will be interesting to hear how the council, which supported Measure B, explains why people should approve the 2018 tax. I can hear the council's pitch now: "We got fooled in 2000, 2008 and 2016, but you can trust us this time."

4 people like this
Posted by MB
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Another thing that bugs me about Measure B is that it is being promoted by Carl Guardino, the guy who represents all of the big companies in the valley. Measure B is a sales tax, which hits the poor hard. I like the suggestion another newspaper in town made that we tax Guardino's members if we want money for transportation projects.

And how come the city council treats Guardino like he's royalty when he comes to town. They give this lobbyist an hour of their meeting time every time he wants to talk. Yet the guy on the street gets 3 minutes. Council needs to stop kissing Guardino's you-know-what.

6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 27, 2016 at 3:31 pm

There is one, and only one proven and very cheap method for reducing traffic, air/noise polution and congestion. It actually costs no money at all and requires no new taxes. Stop densifying this small town, stop building more offices, don't allow a company that is producing and selling its software to occupy downtown, a massive violation of zoning laws.

2 people like this
Posted by Scott L
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Scott L is a registered user.

This Transportation Plan is mainly for a business type tax. So it will be interesting to see how it unfolds over the next year. This type of tax will be much better than they hugely regressive VTA Sales Tax that hurts lower income folks the worst!

As MB stated, it's dubious at best if Palo Alto will get the money from Measure B.
Palo Alto has a backlog of ~$500 Million in infrastructure projects. I'm not sure what the additional costs are for ALL interchanges for grade separation for CalTrain, that I'm 99% sure are over on top of the $500 Million in infrastructure needs.

VTA/SVLG had this tax plan ready to go in 2014, but thought they would have a higher likelihood of winning in 2016. Measure B is a tax plan designed to WIN, by buying off locals with support of pot hole repairs, interchange expansions, auxiliary lanes, widened expressways and "lexus lanes" on Hwy 85, etc.

Palo Alto was promised around $80 Million. Will it come? Who knows!
San Jose has enough votes to make it almost happen on their own to reallocate all funds in any way they see fit!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2016 at 11:54 am

We need Lexus lanes badly. They should have prioritized this with the funds they already received.

In 2014, they created TWO carpool lanes on 101 in Palo Alto/Mountain View, with the plan of turning them into Lexus lanes.

Don't you folks ever drive south of Embarcadero? Have you seen the ridiculous situation during rush our where 3 lanes aren't moving, with 2 HOV lanes flying past them at 70 mph? Many drivers in the HOV lane are violating it anyways. They left this project in a half-finished state but it is extremely dangerous on a daily basis.

At this point I don't care where the funding comes from but they HAVE to open up those 2 lanes to single commuters.

This random experiment with TWO carpool lanes is the most irresponsible thing they've ever done to the freeways.

Combined with the yearlong road work just north of this area, and we have a major bottleneck and increased accidents, all due to poor planning and lack of coordination. And they call it "your tax dollars at work".

6 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 29, 2016 at 4:27 pm

There are news stories from time to time that mention VTA in the process of revising bus routes in the north of the county - eliminating most of them excepting Hotel 22 & 522. Have public and private, but free, buses and shuttles damaged VTA? Are people planning transit services coordinating with VTA in any way? For instance, are shuttles also planned as feeders for VTA including light rail?

Sorry if this has already been discussed at length......

4 people like this
Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 29, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Patrick Burt is a registered user.

I'd like to clarify a few of the concerns raised by some posters about Measure B.
Starting a year ago, a group of north and west county mayors banded together to advocate for projects that would benefit our cities from this measure. Among other projects, we were able to negotiate over $1 Billion toward Catrain improvements, including $700M for grade separations between Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Four of those seven Caltrain grade crossings are in Palo Alto and the funding would represent the majority of the cost of those separations. The balance will need to come from federal, state, regional and local funding. Without Measure B it is difficult to see a path to their funding.
In addition, several critical safeguards were put into the measure to help assure that we will receive those funds. Any change to the funding plan will require a 2/3 majority of the VTA Board. There are also an oversight committee and and auditing requirement.
No measure like this is perfect, but this is the first county transportation tax that will disproportionately benefit the north county cities. Our community needs to support it.

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2016 at 5:43 pm

How much did the Jordan bike mess and the giant bollards cost in city time and resident Frustration? And you want us to pay more for more of the same??

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Contemporary Indian restaurant, Ettan, headed to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 6,237 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,481 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 15 comments | 1,216 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 41 comments | 1,207 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 9 comments | 704 views


Register today!

​On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More