News

How to spend $6 billion on transit

Mountain View and nearby cities lay out plan for new sales tax

A new sales tax to improve the South Bay's transportation woes won't go to voters until the end of the year, but officials from Mountain View and a coalition of other West Valley cities are notching up the pressure for how those dollars should be spent.

Expected to generate at least $6 billion over a 30-year span, the Santa Clara County sales tax has become the centerpiece of county-wide efforts to address the traffic nightmare growing along with the Silicon Valley economy. The prospect of a new tax measure has bolstered a political faction among Mountain View and eight other cities, mostly along the Highway 85 corridor. Over the course of eight meetings throughout 2015, officials from this coalition, which includes Palo Alto, brainstormed priorities and co-authored letters to the Valley Transportation Authority. Strategically, this group worked under the quid-pro-quo logic that VTA would be more receptive to their concerns since their support could make the difference at the ballot box.

At the Mountain View City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19, elected leaders for the first time reviewed the coalition's most definitive product to date: a breakdown for how the sum total of the $6 billion should be spent. Among its budgeting, this "draft allocation" capped BART spending at 20 percent of the total, and budgeted about $1 billion for bike pathways, congestion relief and efforts to get drivers into more efficient modes of transportation. The breakdown doesn't delve into specific projects, like which streets or locations should receive improvements.

The list represents a "preferred" way to spend the money, explained Mountain View transportation manager Linda Forsberg.

"It's difficult to develop an allocation scenario that meets the specific needs and priorities of the cities involved," she said. "This proposed allocation represents a consensus position developed among the North County and West Valley cities that can serve serves as basis for cities to advocate collectively as the tax discussion continues."

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The cities in the coalition include Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga and Los Gatos.

The cities' proposed budget generated a little bit of head-scratching from VTA officials, who were not present at the Mountain View meeting. Transit officials say they've performed extensive outreach to cities in recent months to determine future transportation needs and priorities. In the months to come, transit officials plan to start screening that list of "hundreds" of ideas to determine which should receive top priority, said VTA spokeswoman Stacey Hendler Ross. She expressed doubt that the cities' effort to draft a budget would actually influence the transit agency's decisions.

"We appreciate their involvement, but there's more work to do than to come up with one list," Ross said.

Councilman John McAlister, who represented Mountain View in the discussions, said the general theme of the proposed budget is to "attack" traffic congestion from different angles. The cities want the VTA to take action regardless of whether the sales tax measure passed, he said.

As the Mountain View council began examining the list, elected leaders asked whether they could fiddle with the numbers. City Manager Dan Rich gave a diplomatic response.

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"You're the council, you're free to do as you wish -- however it is a fragile coalition," Rich advised. "All the cities agreed to take this list as it is back to their (councils). It'd be a very big challenge if each city began moving the numbers around."

Nevertheless, council members nitpicked at some aspects of the plan. Councilman Mike Kasperzak said he was disappointed that more money wasn't being proposed for alternative modes of transportation. Echoing comments from the public, council members faulted the breakdown for putting $1.5 billion toward expressways and highways, which they worried could go toward widening roads, compounding the number of solo drivers. Rather than tweak the numbers, they urged the city's representatives to remain flexible while advocating these priorities.

Dissenting from his colleagues, Councilman John Inks questioned the larger purpose of a new sales tax measure as a solution to the area's traffic troubles. He pointed out that the VTA already receives an ongoing half-cent sales tax and voters in recent years had already backed two additional long-term transit surcharges. Among those taxes, the half-cent Measure A is due to sunset in 2036, while the one-eighth-cent Measure B for BART operations will run through 2042. If the upcoming sales tax measure -- also expected to run for 30 years -- is approved, voters would be paying about 40 percent more on top of what they're already paying for transportation, he said.

"Can I tell voters this is a good deal?" he said. "I think this sales-tax method is a distraction from where this money should really come from: the users, and that's the automobile drivers."

The Mountain View City Council voted 6-1, with Inks opposed, to formally endorse the sales tax draft allocation.

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How to spend $6 billion on transit

Mountain View and nearby cities lay out plan for new sales tax

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Jan 26, 2016, 10:13 am

A new sales tax to improve the South Bay's transportation woes won't go to voters until the end of the year, but officials from Mountain View and a coalition of other West Valley cities are notching up the pressure for how those dollars should be spent.

Expected to generate at least $6 billion over a 30-year span, the Santa Clara County sales tax has become the centerpiece of county-wide efforts to address the traffic nightmare growing along with the Silicon Valley economy. The prospect of a new tax measure has bolstered a political faction among Mountain View and eight other cities, mostly along the Highway 85 corridor. Over the course of eight meetings throughout 2015, officials from this coalition, which includes Palo Alto, brainstormed priorities and co-authored letters to the Valley Transportation Authority. Strategically, this group worked under the quid-pro-quo logic that VTA would be more receptive to their concerns since their support could make the difference at the ballot box.

At the Mountain View City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19, elected leaders for the first time reviewed the coalition's most definitive product to date: a breakdown for how the sum total of the $6 billion should be spent. Among its budgeting, this "draft allocation" capped BART spending at 20 percent of the total, and budgeted about $1 billion for bike pathways, congestion relief and efforts to get drivers into more efficient modes of transportation. The breakdown doesn't delve into specific projects, like which streets or locations should receive improvements.

The list represents a "preferred" way to spend the money, explained Mountain View transportation manager Linda Forsberg.

"It's difficult to develop an allocation scenario that meets the specific needs and priorities of the cities involved," she said. "This proposed allocation represents a consensus position developed among the North County and West Valley cities that can serve serves as basis for cities to advocate collectively as the tax discussion continues."

The cities in the coalition include Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga and Los Gatos.

The cities' proposed budget generated a little bit of head-scratching from VTA officials, who were not present at the Mountain View meeting. Transit officials say they've performed extensive outreach to cities in recent months to determine future transportation needs and priorities. In the months to come, transit officials plan to start screening that list of "hundreds" of ideas to determine which should receive top priority, said VTA spokeswoman Stacey Hendler Ross. She expressed doubt that the cities' effort to draft a budget would actually influence the transit agency's decisions.

"We appreciate their involvement, but there's more work to do than to come up with one list," Ross said.

Councilman John McAlister, who represented Mountain View in the discussions, said the general theme of the proposed budget is to "attack" traffic congestion from different angles. The cities want the VTA to take action regardless of whether the sales tax measure passed, he said.

As the Mountain View council began examining the list, elected leaders asked whether they could fiddle with the numbers. City Manager Dan Rich gave a diplomatic response.

"You're the council, you're free to do as you wish -- however it is a fragile coalition," Rich advised. "All the cities agreed to take this list as it is back to their (councils). It'd be a very big challenge if each city began moving the numbers around."

Nevertheless, council members nitpicked at some aspects of the plan. Councilman Mike Kasperzak said he was disappointed that more money wasn't being proposed for alternative modes of transportation. Echoing comments from the public, council members faulted the breakdown for putting $1.5 billion toward expressways and highways, which they worried could go toward widening roads, compounding the number of solo drivers. Rather than tweak the numbers, they urged the city's representatives to remain flexible while advocating these priorities.

Dissenting from his colleagues, Councilman John Inks questioned the larger purpose of a new sales tax measure as a solution to the area's traffic troubles. He pointed out that the VTA already receives an ongoing half-cent sales tax and voters in recent years had already backed two additional long-term transit surcharges. Among those taxes, the half-cent Measure A is due to sunset in 2036, while the one-eighth-cent Measure B for BART operations will run through 2042. If the upcoming sales tax measure -- also expected to run for 30 years -- is approved, voters would be paying about 40 percent more on top of what they're already paying for transportation, he said.

"Can I tell voters this is a good deal?" he said. "I think this sales-tax method is a distraction from where this money should really come from: the users, and that's the automobile drivers."

The Mountain View City Council voted 6-1, with Inks opposed, to formally endorse the sales tax draft allocation.

Comments

Sales Tax
Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 10:49 am
Sales Tax, Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 10:49 am

John Inks has it wrong (as usual); the money for this sales tax *is* coming from drivers. This essentially subsidizes public transportation, so those who don't use it are paying for it and not reaping the benefits. That's their choice. (Plus a sales tax is progressive, as opposed to some kind of regressive tax like per mile driven or per gallon of gas).


SRB
St. Francis Acres
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:25 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:25 am

Why wasn't VTA present at this meeting?


MV resident
Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:29 am
MV resident, Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:29 am

@Sales Tax - Good points, but sales tax is generally regarded as a regressive tax, as it takes a larger proportion of a lower-earner's income than it does of a higher-earner. That's one reason I don't like it. Another is that VTA has not disavowed and abandoned its idiotic lane El Camino closure proposal. Until that happens, my vote will be NO.

That said, transportation is a problem here, and needs to be dealt with. In spite of VTA's faults and wrongheaded ideas, I'd be inclined to vote yes if they reversed themselves on ECR lane closure.


Mrs. Addams
Rengstorff Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:40 am
Mrs. Addams, Rengstorff Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:40 am

"At the Mountain View City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 20"

Jan 20 was a Wednesday.


Vot NO New VTA taxes
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:55 am
Vot NO New VTA taxes, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:55 am

The gall of people trying to figure out how to spend(waste) more of our money before we even get a chance to vote on whether we give it to them.

VTA has come begging election after election for tax increases, little bits at a time, but continuously.
The free meal ticket stops here. Please vote NO for any more tax increases on us. it's tough enough to make ends meet, we don't need this incessant nickle and diming.

Currently VTA has 2 additional tax increases running right now and not set to expire for years and years; we're already giving them a lot of our hard earned cash. If things are tight with money they need to look how to reduce their costs, not how to take more money out of our pockets and out of our children's pockets.


Steve Ly
another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm
Steve Ly, another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Over the last several elections, voters in Santa Clara County have passed multiple tax and fee increases including VTA’s 2000 Measure A ½-cent and 2008 measure B ¼-cent sales taxes, Santa Clara County’s Measure A 1/8 cent sales tax, the state prop 30 ¼ cent sales tax and the 2010 Measure B Vehicle Registration Fee of $10. Additionally, we’re on the hook to pay back numerous state bond issues including high speed rail, last year’s Proposition 1 water bond and the infrastructure bonds of 2006.

All of this nickel and diming has contributed into making the Bay Area a horribly expensive place to live; especially for people of modest means, who must pay the greatest percentage of their income in these regressive taxes and fees. Each increase by itself does not amount to much, say a quarter cent, but the cumulative effect is to add to the unaffordability of the region.

Before increasing taxes YET AGAIN, waste needs to be removed from transportation projects. For example, VTA needs to eliminate waste and “gold plating” of the BART extension’s cost by reducing the scope to eliminate duplicate facilities. The BART segment from the San Jose to Santa Clara Caltrain stations would duplicate both the existing Caltrain line and VTA’s 22 and 522 buses to a station that has approximately 1000 riders each weekday. This is extremely wasteful and sends the wrong message to voters who will be asked to approve more sales tax increases in 2016.


VTA Budget
another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:07 pm
VTA Budget, another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Note that VTA is more likely to spend > 50% of the proposed tax on BART. This is a group of cities standing up to VTA. That should be appreciated.


B Minkin
Sylvan Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:24 pm
B Minkin, Sylvan Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Whenever I read or hear remarks from VTA, it feels like the organization does not see itself as a peer of or subservient to either the cities or the residents. In the meetings they attend, they are present during the remarks given, but do not address them. It will be hard for me to generate much enthusiasm for any proposal involving new taxes.


Common sense
Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:31 pm
Common sense, Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:31 pm

The issue of VTA using this part of its jurisdiction as an ATM to bankroll its pet projects, especially BART, in the "South County" (which always seems to have disproportionate representation on VTA's governing board, please note) is hardly new. 12 years ago in the Voice: "The Mountain View council fears the proposed BART extension will suck funds from other transit projects planned for the North County" Web Link -- precisely what Simitian, a few months ago, concluded has happened after studying where transit money has gone: Web Link


juan olive
Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:36 pm
juan olive, Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Wow. Didn't Christmas just end? You 30 year olds that vote or allow for this kind of money spending are fools. Doesn't the saying go like "A fool and his money are easily parted"? Except in this case the only parting will be from your pockets to some unknown entity where hardly anyone has to keep track or be held accountable or responsible for all this money.
How many billions will be needed in 10 years or less and for what?


Jimc
Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:43 pm
Jimc, Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I am willing to pay for a small increase in tax to fix transportation, but NOT if it contains any part for BART. BART comes to San Jose and does not help Mountain View. Let San Jose and environs pay for BART.


bjd
Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm
bjd, Old Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm

It is unfortunate that the VTA has such a bad track record in providing service to the region. The Light Rail is a disaster, with one of the lowest riderships in the country (Web Link

Unfortunately I think the BART extension will suffer the same fate, since it connects regions that don't really make sense as transit hubs (no high-density living or working populations). And this project comes with a huge price tag, taking more than its fair share of the area's transit dollars.

We clearly do need better transit solutions across the Peninsula. Would it be too much to ask for the VTA to be specific about how the funds would be used? For example signal timing improvements would go a long way at easing congestion on our expressways, yet according to VTA's EnvisionSV site (Web Link we can "only" have signal timing improvements if we max out our budget for expressways, at $1 billion. That's nonsense. The existing light rail infrastructure connects areas that don't have reason to be connected, with very long trip times. How about sensical routes, like a BRT or rail link to get from Mountain View's transit center to North Bayshore, as fast as we can do it?

VTA: Show us a reasonable plan and maybe we'd be inclined to show you the money.


Trump Voter
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm
Trump Voter, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm

I will vote for only tax DECREASES. Ideally, I would not pay ANY taxes at all, yet continue to use ALL of the public services and infrastructure. After all, I am white and wealthy, so am more deserving than my poor cousins in south county.

Vote against VTA and vote for Donald!


HEre is how to spend it
Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm
HEre is how to spend it, Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm

spend 80% on salaries and studies of different ways to accomplish there tasks.

spend 20% on pensions and medical costs that are ballooning.

What's left, nothing, but the taxpayers will approve more.


@Trump Voter
Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:37 pm
@Trump Voter, Monta Loma
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:37 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


@Monta Loma
another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm
@Monta Loma, another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Chump
another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm
Chump, another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

This tax proposal is puny. It is estimated to raise $6 billion over 30 years, or $500 million a year. That is not nearly enough to make a dent in our transportation problems. It is chump change, and it is not worth spending the time to argue about.


Billion here Billion There
another community
on Jan 27, 2016 at 1:27 am
Billion here Billion There, another community
on Jan 27, 2016 at 1:27 am

Well, well, but $6 Billion would certainly be enough to spend right. I agree that the tax should be voted down because VTA will spend it wrong. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Inks Has It Right
Monta Loma
on Jan 27, 2016 at 6:04 am
Inks Has It Right, Monta Loma
on Jan 27, 2016 at 6:04 am

Inks has it right . A sales tax is on retail sales. And is regressive. User fees should support VTA , not people who don't use the public bus system .


I'll vote No
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:05 am
I'll vote No, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:05 am

I personally do not think user based funding systems are always the way to go, since many times the non-users also enjoy the benefits from the user's activity, such as improving bike infrastructure which has proven to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes more, thus benefiting the non-bike commuter with less cars on the road.

The issue is that there is ALWAYS a small tax that VTA enjoys(currently we're funding 2 that are ongoing)but the benefits have been absent. It's time to look real hard at what we're getting out of the last 2 tax increases and ask if VTA deserves another. BRT and endless studies designed to try and twist things to make people think it's a good idea??? I think this time the vote will be no. VTA needs to look towards itself if they need additional money. My wallet has been tapped for too long.


No BRT
Cuernavaca
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm
No BRT, Cuernavaca
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Unless VTA outwardly states that NO funds will be used on El Camino BRT (automobile lane elimination) projects, I will vote no. Period.

And, like others, I believe VTA should be compelled to show evidence of productive use of past and current funding.


Voting No On BRT
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm
Voting No On BRT, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm

I don't like the people that ride the bus. They are not wealthy, so why should any taxes be spent on them?

We need to spend money on more lanes for cars, unless it impacts my neighborhood. As long as my life gets better and poor people's life gets worse, I am happy.

Vote NO on any and all taxes and Vote for Donald Trump.


Scott
Monta Loma
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm
Scott, Monta Loma
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm

I don't get it. Why is widening roads bad? Los Angeles has done an amazing job, both widening roads and building transit / bike lanes.

There's traffic and no BART. You don't get to judge it. Make people's lives easier and solve the actual problem.

If BART were built where people needed to go, widening lanes could be avoided. It's not, instead it's a jobs program for San Jose. So we need to expand freeways so people can live their damn lives.

The Bay Area is confusing as hell. Everyone here has low expectations for the government. Sure, many of you profess to hate how the VTA operates, and yet nod your heads vigorously at "no cars, more bikes!" It's no different: You're projecting ideal ogives in spite of reality.

Bikes are dangerous as hell on the awful, narrow roads here. So you drive. That's reality. Make the road bigger. Add transit too, please, but make the damn road bigger. Make the roads bigger. Expand the roads. W I D E N T H E R O A D S. Enejwjsdjdidjdnensisjdfndnejwiwi


Note vote here
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:02 am
Note vote here, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:02 am

I agree and ill also vote no. VTA has accomplished nothing while slurping up gobs of our hard earned money. We're NOT wealthy tech workers, or doctors and it's damn hard to stay in the black each month. We do not need a 3rd tax on us from VTA, especially when we get nothing back from them.
VTA please stop trying to tax us to death! We cannot afford it anymore!


Poor U
Old Mountain View
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:14 am
Poor U, Old Mountain View
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:14 am

Wow..all of these statements. "I won't approve any taxes for VTA until they <Fill in the blank>"

It's much more likely that these same people will NEVER vote for any taxes ANYWAY, so their threat is meaningless.

The dedicated lane will make public transit very fast along the highest density road in santa clara county. Even better, it does so at a minimal cost in both dollars and impacts to automobile traffic. This has been studied to death and that is the reality. The only opponents are NIMBY's who have not a SINGLE study of their own to contradict the proven plan of a dedicated transit lane.

I'm glad that Mountain View has voted our support for the project and that most cities in the county remain unopposed. Even Sunnyvale BARELY voted to oppose the project--by a SINGLE VOTE!

It's a done deal. Get over it.


Steve Ly
another community
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Steve Ly, another community
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Poor U completely misses the point. Santa Clara County voters have voted to increase taxes and fees repeatedly over the last 30 years, yet the reward for approving them is just another ballot measure in the next election. When is enough enough? The cost of living is gotten out of control.


@steve ly
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:31 pm
@steve ly, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Taxes have nothing to do with his "cost of living [sic.]is gotten out of control." If anything, the taxes to improve infrastructure is to allow a reasonable quality of life to continue in the face of skyrocketing rents and service costs.

People like you keep beating the drum that taxes make the poor, poorer... Doesn't make any sense. George W Bush would agree with you though!


No "No" more like Hell No
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 1:01 pm
No "No" more like Hell No, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Taxes without any results should be eliminated. How has VTA made things better since the last 2 tax increases we gave them? Those aren't set to expire for a loong time but still they need more, and more, and more.
Its time to stop throwing money down the drain. Take a breather VTA. Spend what you have, if you need more, cut costs.


the_punnisher
Whisman Station
on Jan 28, 2016 at 6:58 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
on Jan 28, 2016 at 6:58 pm

BART was promised to us over 40 years ago. That is why many of us are still waiting.
VTA trains are a joke. No one rides them.

To solve their transit problem is easy. Build a WYE under the Ellis street /101 bridge. Send some trains to the East Bayshore areas. others back south of Moffett Field.

RTD of Denver HAS a working Light Rail system. It might pay for someone who supports VTA projects see this WORKING SYSTEM in operation. Several Lines with ridership AND grade separations that work.

Like RTD, BART uses grade separation when possible. Give us our BART LOOP WHICH WE ALREADY PAID FOR! VTA must use elevated stations to get to the BART connections. No More CalTrain and forced upgrades! Caltrain shouldn't even exist if the SFBA used EMINENT DOMAIN forty years ago.

Yes, I've opted out from these SFBA problems as I could not afford to buy a house or property in your area.

" You can pay me now or you can pay me later ". You are seeing examples of our " pay me later " transit problems. I find it hard to see all the " Band-Aid " fixes that have been applied.

Make all that money finish the BART LOOP THAT WE TAXPAYERS WERE PROMISED. Scrap out CalTrain as BART will save on duplicate efforts. Do many Give complainer people an Eminent Domain notice to shut them up.


Tough Guy
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 5:53 am
Tough Guy, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 5:53 am

"Yes, I've opted out from these SFBA problems as I could not afford to buy a house or property in your area."

It's easy to write policy when you have no skin in the game. Maybe we should charge people who sleep in their motor homes on public streets a special tax. Any complainers can be given a bus ticket back to Colorado, or wherever home is.


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