Momentum is growing among cities in the northern part of Santa Clara County to seize an opportunity arising from the potential transportation tax measure on the November 2016 ballot. With recently compiled data showing that nearly 80 percent of the revenue generated since 2000 by the two voter-approved transportation taxes is funding the extension of BART to San Jose through the East Bay, Mountain View and 10 other cities are joining forces to ensure that a bigger piece of the tax-revenue pie is divvied up to support North County projects.
The timing of the joint effort sparks hope that some relief may be on the way for residents and commuters now forced to navigate clogged highways and inadequate public transit in the north region. The county's Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is talking up the need for a sales-tax boost to fund transportation projects, indicating that a measure may be on next year's ballot. So the leveraging power of cities that feel short-changed by the VTA's funding decisions over the last 15 years may be the highest it will be for many years.
The funding inequity came to light thanks to county Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose District 5 includes Mountain View and other North County and West Valley communities. His office analyzed data collected from the county and the VTA to find that funding for District 5 projects amounted to just 5.3 percent of proceeds from the tax measure passed in 2000. Revenue generated so far by the 2008-approved Measure B has gone entirely to the BART project.
Given these facts, those who use local roads and highways, particularly during commute hours, might need some serious persuasion if the county wants them to check that "yes" box agreeing to raise the county's sales tax, already among the highest rates in the state, to pay for transportation projects. North County officials are wise to act on that inevitable dissatisfaction over the funding inequity revealed in Simitian's analysis as they push for balance in distributing tax revenue. "If we're going to ask taxpayers to impose yet another tax on themselves, we should expect them to ask how this is going to relieve congestion," Simitian told the Voice.
Mountain View and other cities are compiling a list of desired projects to submit to the VTA by the end of the month -- a standard practice. "This year, because of the potential (tax) revenue measure, we are expanding the list in order to get more potential projects considered," City Manager Dan Rich said in an email to the Voice.
North County and West Valley mayors and city managers are also signing a letter urging the VTA to conduct a comprehensive study on the county's transportation system, with an initial attention to distressingly overburdened corridors in need of improvement: Highway 85, U.S. Route 101, State Route 237, and Interstate 280.
North County officials are doing the right thing in pressuring the county's transportation authority before the language of an almost certain tax measure is crafted. Residents and those who work in the county's northern region would be wise to join in the effort. It's an opportunity to take advantage of the political might of the ballot box.