Public and VTA Board Members Object to $100 Billion Mega Tax

Both members of the public and some elected officials who sit on the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board of Directors sounded off on a $100 billion tax hike dubbed “Faster Bay Area” at the agency’s June 21 (9 am) Board of Directors meeting. This was the first public meeting for which the agenda stated that the tax proposal would be discussed – the item was entitled “Faster Bay Area” rather than “General Manager’s Report” as on the June 6 VTA Board and June 13 BART Board meeting agendas.

And what did The People have to say…?:

“The idea that buses are for the poor and desperate and that train are for people who are more well-off needs to change,” said Silicon Valley Transit Users (SVTU) Leadership Team member and San Jose State University student Monica Mallon. “I hope that you can change this not only through a funding increase for buses, bus also by integrating fares and providing seamless transfers.”

“Things that connect to Highway 101 are now automatically called transformative,” objected San Jose City Council District 6 candidate and longtime VTA critic Andrew Boone. “They are not transformative, they are entrench-itive; they would entrench us into the same failed transportation strategy of depending on cars for most of our trips.”

“The future of the highway and the car is not sustainable, and we really have to consider that we can’t just think of the automobile as all anymore,” implored resident Blair Beekman.

“More money really needs to go toward better bus, rail, and walking and biking for everybody,” said SVTU Founder Eugene Bradley. “Too often I see from staff and certain politicians here [the view] that buses are only for those who don’t have a car. This limits our ability to free ourselves from traffic that’s destroying Silicon Valley.”

“The shame of this is that Bus 22 is the only 24-hour line in the County,” said resident Kieth May of the aborted proposal by VTA staff to eliminate service on that route entirely from 1 to 4 am every night. “Excuses for this lack of late-night transit are only one part of a series of pathetic failures on the part of our public services organizations.”

VTA Board member and Mountain View City Council member John McCalister questioned the agency’s rushed timeline for helping compile a 2020 mega tax.

“This is being led by the coalition, not by VTA,” explained VTA Policy & Community Relations Manager Scott Haywood in response to questioning by Director McCalister, who asked why the agency was requested to provide a list of projects deserving of funding by such a $100 billion tax in just two weeks. “Once they do the [public] outreach they would then need to go to the state legislature to get state approval to [place the tax on ballot in all nine Bay Area counties] to be ready for November 2020 which is when most folks believe would be the ideal time to go,” explained Haywood.

“We need transparency, and we need a little more time to vent something out instead of throwing a number of projects through our TAC committee and not having the cities and the VTA Board get a full opportunity to discuss the projects that are moving forward.

“One of the things that continues to disturb me is that we’ve got the public who any time we mention ‘101 corridor’ that equals road expansion and more cars,” said VTA Board Director and Los Altos City Council member Jeannie Bruins. “I’m hoping that our position is trying more to look at what I would call ‘transit super-highways’ and those transit super-highway may be parallel to or on [Highway] 101, 85, 237, or what have you through the nine Bay Area counties.”

VTA Board Director and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo suggested that part of the Mega Tax’s proceeds go toward funding the construction of California High-Speed Rail to San Jose. Funding HSR with the proposed Faster Bay Area tax had not been proposed by any government official or advocacy group, nor by any representatives of the pro-tax business coalition (Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Bay Area Council, SPUR) itself.

While the Mega Tax’s proponents continue to promise a robust and inclusive public outreach process, not a single public meeting on the tax has been proposed. No city or county in the San Francisco Bay Area has yet determined or even discussed what public outreach they will conduct, if any.

BART Board Hears 70-Second Summary of $100 Billion Mega Tax

On June 13 the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors was provided a stunningly brief review – just 70 seconds – of the proposed $100 billion “Faster Bay Area” transportation mega tax envisioned by a coalition of regional business groups. BART General Manager Grace Crunican read a prepared statement on the tax proposal during “Item 7. General Manager’s Report”, exactly six hours into the meeting, and provided no opportunity for discussion or questions by the Board members.

“The business community led by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council and SPUR are considering advancing a transformational transportation funding measure,” stated Crunican. “It would be a nine-county regional measure that could raise between $50 and $100 billion dollars over the next 40 years for voter consideration as early as 2020. The proponents are interested in big transformation projects to better connect jobs to housing through more seamless transit systems. They’ve begun to engage with the transit [General Managers], the Congestion Management Agencies, and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations throughout the Bay Area – there are more than [the Metropolitan Transportation Commission] when you look at the broader Bay Area. The largest transit agency GMs have begun initial conversation about a transformative, coordinating transit package could look like, and I wanted to make you aware that [Deputy General Manager Robert Powers] and I will be continuing to be on that team that puts together whatever might be looked at. Bob and staff will be returning to the Board for a discussion by the Board about the package and how it’s put together, and what the Board’s inputs are on that.”

Just as Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) General Manager Nuria Fernandez’s comments in support of the Mega Tax at the June 6 VTA Board of Directors meeting, Crunican reveals that the interest of the pro-tax business coalition is to develop an expenditure plan for the tax with as little public review as possible. Bay Area transit agency General Managers along with the CMAs and MTC’s own pro-highway bureaucrats would be the first to define what a “transformative, coordinating $100 billion transit package” should include. Neither Crunican nor Fernandez referred to Plan Bay Area, the San Francisco Bay Area’s official regional land use and transportation plan, nor stated whether the Mega Tax would focus on funding the projects the plan recommends.

Crunican is retiring July 6, and her most likely successor is BART Deputy General Manager Robert Powers.

The Alameda County Transportation Authority (ACTC) Board of Directors received a panel presentation in support of the $100 billion mega tax concept on May 30 at their annual retreat. The VTA Board of Directors also reviewed the Mega Tax proposal at its June 6 meeting.

Corporate Lobbyists Push Poll 1% Sales Tax Hike

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has finally revealed how it wishes to tax San Francisco Bay Area residents in order to fund the next glut of wasteful multi-billion dollar highway traffic capacity expansion projects – with a 1-cent-per-dollar-spent sales tax increase that would apply to entire nine-county region. The corporate lobbying group also polled the public on support for housing development and improvements, specifically those crafted by the secretive CASA Compact Committee. The poll results were published in The Mercury News on March 25.

The “Leadership” Group is long known for deceptive push polls designed to show greater public support for new taxes than really exists, and to promote certain types of taxes such as sales taxes over more equitable taxation methods such as corporate taxes or property taxes. This poll on the mega measure for transportation, for example, asks voters if they would support a tax hike to improve public transit (and reduce car traffic congestion!) but intentionally omits the fact that 20 to 30 percent of the tax revenue will be spent on creating even more car traffic congestion with new bigger interchanges and new highway toll lanes. If you built it, they will come, but SVLG never mentions that the taxes they are pushing will be used to expand highway capacity, specifically with new toll lanes called “Express Lanes”.