News

Santa Clara County supervisors vote to oppose bloated spending plan for BART

Early estimates show $1.9B budgeted for expansion of regional transit system

Funding for North County Caltrain grade separations could take a back seat under a new VTA funding plan. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Santa Clara County supervisors came out in formal opposition Tuesday to a recently unveiled plan to pour sales tax money into extending BART at the expense of other transportation projects over the next decade.

The unanimous vote by supervisors comes amid sharp criticism from elected officials throughout Santa Clara County, who bristled at a 10-year funding plan by the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) proposing that the vast majority of the 2016 Measure B sales tax go toward extending BART further into San Jose. The plan left a pittance of funding remaining for all other transportation priorities through 2030.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who led the effort, called VTA's plan an "unacceptable" attempt to dump funding into BART — which has soaked up close to four-fifths of sales tax revenue for decades — while abandoning many of the important transportation projects that would benefit residents elsewhere in the county. Caltrain improvements and grade separations, Highway 85 transit lanes, county expressways and highway interchanges were not given any allocations, VTA documents show.

All told, six categories of transportation projects were given a "TBD (to be determined)" label on funding through 2030, yet BART's early budget was estimated at more than $1.9 billion.

"People are very clear that this was essentially an attempt to zero out — or damn near — six of the nine categories for the next 10 years in order to fully frontload the BART program," Simitian said.

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Measure B, a 30-year half-cent sales tax, passed in 2016 with broad support from a coalition of city and county elected officials, but not before serious commitments were made to control spending on BART. A coalition of 11 cities demanded a cap on funding for the transit line, and a commitment to other critical transportation infrastructure.

In the north county in particular, funding for county expressways and Caltrain grade separation were among the top priorities. Measure B earmarks at least $700 million for both priorities.

It was these carve-outs for projects unrelated to BART that got so many elected officials to sign on, said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, yet now it appears everything is being deprioritized in favor of BART.

"They were never told this money wouldn't be coming for 12 years," Wasserman said. "They were told that 75% of the tax dollars they were endorsing would be going towards those things."

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said it's clear that VTA needs to reach a compromise, and try to find some way to complete the BART extension into San Jose without alienating 14 other cities in the process.

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Saratoga City Council member Howard Miller, who helped formulate the 2016 ballot language, said it was supposed to be a "smorgasbord" of transportation priorities that offered something for everyone, particularly projects to improve local streets and roads. The 10-year spending plan leaves little left for anything other than BART for the next decade — something Miller called a major oversight.

"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," Miller said.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who chaired VTA's board of directors at the time the 10-year funding plan was released, said the board did not have a chance to review or comment on the plan before it was made public. She said the document has led to some confusion, and that other priorities have and will continue to receive funding. Investments have already been made into multiple highway projects, county expressway paving and bike and pedestrian projects.

What's more, BART is a particularly challenging project to plan for, Chavez said. The size of the program and the high cost of underground tunneling means the BART extension needs greater predictability for funding from start to finish, she said.

But any semblance of balance would completely vanish under the 10-year spending plan. Assuming BART is fully funded under the proposal, there would be barely enough money to cover improvements to local streets and roads, and nothing left for Caltrain upgrades, transit operations, county expressways or highway improvements, according to county staff.

In the lead-up to the vote by county supervisors, a grand total of nine cities — including Mountain View and Palo Alto — have come out in opposition to VTA's spending plan.

Simitian said he believes there's been an effort over the last month to "explain away" the 10-year funding plan, with VTA officials describing it as a preliminary document and the start of a conversation. But he said it deserves scrutiny, and undeniably tries to yank funding out of promised transportation projects.

"There is no explaining away full funding for BART to San Jose and zeros on six of nine program areas," Simitian said.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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

Santa Clara County supervisors vote to oppose bloated spending plan for BART

Early estimates show $1.9B budgeted for expansion of regional transit system

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 18, 2020, 9:34 am

Santa Clara County supervisors came out in formal opposition Tuesday to a recently unveiled plan to pour sales tax money into extending BART at the expense of other transportation projects over the next decade.

The unanimous vote by supervisors comes amid sharp criticism from elected officials throughout Santa Clara County, who bristled at a 10-year funding plan by the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) proposing that the vast majority of the 2016 Measure B sales tax go toward extending BART further into San Jose. The plan left a pittance of funding remaining for all other transportation priorities through 2030.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who led the effort, called VTA's plan an "unacceptable" attempt to dump funding into BART — which has soaked up close to four-fifths of sales tax revenue for decades — while abandoning many of the important transportation projects that would benefit residents elsewhere in the county. Caltrain improvements and grade separations, Highway 85 transit lanes, county expressways and highway interchanges were not given any allocations, VTA documents show.

All told, six categories of transportation projects were given a "TBD (to be determined)" label on funding through 2030, yet BART's early budget was estimated at more than $1.9 billion.

"People are very clear that this was essentially an attempt to zero out — or damn near — six of the nine categories for the next 10 years in order to fully frontload the BART program," Simitian said.

Measure B, a 30-year half-cent sales tax, passed in 2016 with broad support from a coalition of city and county elected officials, but not before serious commitments were made to control spending on BART. A coalition of 11 cities demanded a cap on funding for the transit line, and a commitment to other critical transportation infrastructure.

In the north county in particular, funding for county expressways and Caltrain grade separation were among the top priorities. Measure B earmarks at least $700 million for both priorities.

It was these carve-outs for projects unrelated to BART that got so many elected officials to sign on, said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, yet now it appears everything is being deprioritized in favor of BART.

"They were never told this money wouldn't be coming for 12 years," Wasserman said. "They were told that 75% of the tax dollars they were endorsing would be going towards those things."

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said it's clear that VTA needs to reach a compromise, and try to find some way to complete the BART extension into San Jose without alienating 14 other cities in the process.

Saratoga City Council member Howard Miller, who helped formulate the 2016 ballot language, said it was supposed to be a "smorgasbord" of transportation priorities that offered something for everyone, particularly projects to improve local streets and roads. The 10-year spending plan leaves little left for anything other than BART for the next decade — something Miller called a major oversight.

"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," Miller said.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who chaired VTA's board of directors at the time the 10-year funding plan was released, said the board did not have a chance to review or comment on the plan before it was made public. She said the document has led to some confusion, and that other priorities have and will continue to receive funding. Investments have already been made into multiple highway projects, county expressway paving and bike and pedestrian projects.

What's more, BART is a particularly challenging project to plan for, Chavez said. The size of the program and the high cost of underground tunneling means the BART extension needs greater predictability for funding from start to finish, she said.

But any semblance of balance would completely vanish under the 10-year spending plan. Assuming BART is fully funded under the proposal, there would be barely enough money to cover improvements to local streets and roads, and nothing left for Caltrain upgrades, transit operations, county expressways or highway improvements, according to county staff.

In the lead-up to the vote by county supervisors, a grand total of nine cities — including Mountain View and Palo Alto — have come out in opposition to VTA's spending plan.

Simitian said he believes there's been an effort over the last month to "explain away" the 10-year funding plan, with VTA officials describing it as a preliminary document and the start of a conversation. But he said it deserves scrutiny, and undeniably tries to yank funding out of promised transportation projects.

"There is no explaining away full funding for BART to San Jose and zeros on six of nine program areas," Simitian said.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Stop It
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2020 at 10:18 am
Stop It, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2020 at 10:18 am

VTA’s Board structure is loaded so San Jose can out-vote the small towns in north and south County. What Board Members in the SJ voting block lack in scruples, they make up for in greed.

I voted against Measure B because there was no written guarantee in it that we wouldn’t be robbed again for BART.

Now Palo Alto is to lose its share of grade separation, road repair and transportation funds we had coming.

And this from VTA, ranked near the rock bottom as worst such agency in the nation. This corruption must stop.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2020 at 2:46 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2020 at 2:46 pm

Please share this article with friends, it’s important northern Santa Clara County taxpayers understand how they are “ripped off.”
Also request our local government representatives represent us effectively - sometimes one thinks they mildly object - but really in fact supported Carl Guardino, etc., really...
Though the SC County BOS comes off as helpful here, much more needs to be done for northern Santa Clara County taxpayers to be served by our elected and non-elected government officials.
It’s incredible that Palo Alto serves as a cash cow for these outfits such as VTA!
Read the audits of VTA - not good.
Believe me, I WANT effective transit, which we do not have here, but we also need sensible and fair leadership.
You CAN email your representatives, you know....worth doing. Thanks!
.


Bill Hough
Registered user
Los Altos
on Dec 19, 2020 at 8:27 am
Bill Hough, Los Altos
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2020 at 8:27 am

I write as a taxpayer, resident and voter living in Los Altos.

I completely agree with a letter written by County Supervisor S. Joseph Simitian. As he states, "the Measure B 10-Year Outlook needs to serve the entire County to the greatest extent possible, including by avoiding or minimizing reductions in the annual formula programs (Local Streets and Roads, Bicycle/Pedestrian, and Transit Operations) and maintaining progress for the capital projects in the other programs which are already under way."

There is enough money for BART: the 2016 Measure B was the third Sales tax passed since 2000 to pay for transportation in Santa Clara County. In November 2000, the voters approved Measure A, a 30-year half cent sales tax devoted to specified public transit capital improvement projects and operations including BART. 2008 Measure B was a 1/8-cent, 30-year sales tax to pay BART for operations, maintenance and improvements.

VTA should consider "value engineering" BART by canceling the unnecessary part of the line from San Jose to Santa Clara that duplicates existing Caltrain and 22/522 bus service. VTA should also use less expensive tunneling alternatives under Santa Clara Street. If additional money is necessary, raise taxes on the rich tech companies that will directly benefit from BART service. Don't gut 2016 Measure B.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 19, 2020 at 12:08 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2020 at 12:08 pm

For years, VTA has said it has a fiscal emergency and needs to cut bus service to compensate, yet it always finds money for BART. VTA has passed multiple taxes and secured grants to fund BART while moaning that their finances are so bad that they have to cut bus service, especially anything that doesn't serve San Jose.

VTA opened BART to San Jose after years of delays in the middle of a pandemic while running reduced bus service. But they still want to prioritize building BART to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara Transit Center even though this duplicates existing bus, light-rail, and CalTrain service.

It would seem sensible to put BART on hold for a few years and spend 75% of Measure B funds to restore basic transit service. Once the existing transit systems that people rely on to get around Santa Clara County are in good shape, they can expand BART. But right now, it just takes away from money that is desperately needed elsewhere.

VTA will say they can't do this. But if they can always find money for BART when they need it, why can't they find money for buses?


Realignment
Registered user
Community Center
on Dec 19, 2020 at 2:32 pm
Realignment , Community Center
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Palo Alto should secede from Santa Clara County and join San Mateo instead. Our needs and interests are much more similar to San Mateo County than to San Jose.


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