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Issue date: August 04, 2000

Council supports "BART tax" Council supports "BART tax" (August 04, 2000)

Vote made in face of public opposition

By Jose Antonio Vargas and Karen Willemsen

Despite strong opposition from members of the public, a quorum of four city council members voted unanimously on Aug. 1 to support the so-called "BART Tax."

The tax, which must be approved by voters and is being considered by the Board of Supervisors for inclusion on the November ballot, would extend BART rail service from Fremont to San Jose.

Council members Mike Kasperzak, Mario Ambra, and Mary Lou Zoglin were absent from the meeting.

The proposed tax initiative would extend the county's half-cent sales tax, which expires in 2006, for an additional 20 years. Approximately 45 percent of the revenue generated by the tax would fund the proposed BART extension. The remaining tax revenues would help fund a variety of transit-related projects throughout the county, including freeway construction, Caltrain electrification, and improved public transit service.

Michael Evanhoe, director of the congestion management and highway programs for the Valley Transportation Authority, presented the issue to the council.

Evanhoe said that in March, 1999, the transportation authority began asking cities what specific transit initiatives they would like funded.

Requests totaling $40 billion poured in, and the VTA started prioritizing transportation projects throughout Santa Clara Valley.

Through the process, VTA pared the list of projects to less than $4 billion, referred to as the Valley Transportation Project (VTP) 2020 plan, Evanhoe explained.

The VTP 2020 plan includes projects dealing with transit, highways, and bicycles, said Joan Jenkins, transportation and policy manager for the city of Mountain View. The plan lists projects and potential revenue sources, including combinations of state and federal funds, and county sales taxes. The plan also indicates that certain projects can be paid for without any sales tax revenue.

Jenkins said the 20-year plan is estimated to cost about $4 billion, coincidentally the amount the BART extension is projected to cost. However, BART will receive only $1.7 billion from the proposed tax. The rest of the BART funding would come from outside sources, including $760 million from Gov. Gray Davis' transportation plan and $546 million from Alameda County.

According to Evanhoe, the VTA is currently informally discussing the possibility of extending the 20-year taxation period by five years, which would allow the county to generate an additional $1.1 billion in revenue. He said that with five years' worth of additional funding, more local projects could be realized.

Mayor Rosemary Stasek said she would welcome a BART and Caltrain connection in Santa Clara six miles from Mountain View. She was confident that the transit tax measure would directly benefit Mountain View residents as well as employees commuting to work at local companies. Council members Nancy Noe and Sally Lieber agreed.

Earlier in the council's discussion, Council member Ralph Faravelli questioned the transit tax benefit to Mountain View.

"If I'm going to ask Mountain View voters to pay this tax for 20 or 25 years, it should go to something that directly benefits Mountain View," Faravelli said. "As members of this council, that's what we're supposed to do--look out for our city's interests."

However, when it came time to vote, Faravelli decided to support the tax measure, saying, "I hope that by putting this on the ballot, the public will have enough input and information to make a decision before the November election."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, 11 men spoke, urging the council not to support the tax measure. All felt that the process is being rushed without proper input from the public or much thought of other transportation alternatives.

David Coale, a member of the local nonprofit organization Bay Area Action and the Transportation and Land Use Coalition (a coalition of more than 60 transit, land use, and environmental groups looking at regional solutions to the county's environmental and land use problems), said after the vote that the mayor's position was indicative of how voters misperceive the transit tax issue.

Coale stated that funding BART is a trade-off, and that the money could be used to bring regional rail across the Dumbarton Bridge. Doing so would connect Caltrain to the high-speed Altamont Commuter Express trains in the East Bay, with funds to spare, Coale said.

Andy Chow, another opponent of the tax extension, said that regional rail improvements would "let the mayor take a train from downtown directly to Oakland."

Chow, a member of the advocacy group Peninsula Rail 2000, added that faster trains and more of them would allow Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to provide "BART-like service" across the bay, and from San Francisco to San Jose.

The only member of the public who spoke in support of the tax measure and its inclusion on the November ballot was Larry Carr, director of education and work-force preparedness for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.

Carr emphasized the need for traffic relief in the region, and asked that the council support the tax measure for the benefit of everyone.

Greg Perry, who plans to run for city council, urged the council to "make a strong statement in favor of weighing the options."

Perry added, "You're not going to get another half-cent sales tax after this one, and if you're talking about spending $4 billion, then it's worth $200,000 to do an independent comparative study of other transit alternatives. It doesn't make sense to bind your hands and lock in what you're going to do for the next 20 or 25 years."

On June 27, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to continue the discussion about placing the tax extension on the November ballot.

A final vote on the measure is scheduled for Aug. 8. Four of the five supervisors must vote in favor of the initiative for it to be put on the ballot. 


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