After more than two years of fending off legal challenges, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority can finally start spending money from the 2016 Measure B sales tax.
Last week, the California Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch effort to appeal the tax measure, which means that VTA is now free to start putting its collected revenues toward a slate of transportation improvements. The agency has accumulated about $360 million from the tax surcharge, which until now has been sitting in an escrow account.
The Measure B tax passed with about 71.2 percent approval from voters, but soon after the election the sales tax was challenged in court. In the lawsuit filed on behalf of Saratoga resident Cheriel Jensen, Mountain View attorney Gary Wesley alleged the measure was a "bait-and-switch" that promised voters it would adhere to a broad spending plan, but actually allowed the money to be shifted however VTA desired. As written, the measure needed to be rescinded because it fell short of state election code requirements, Wesley said.
In October, a state appellate court dismissed the suit, and Wesley unsuccessfully tried to take the case one step higher to the state Supreme Court. With that appeal now rejected, Wesley is unable to press the case any further, and VTA is free to start spending the money.
VTA officials say their initial focus will be to distribute about $80 million to cities for a variety of local street and roads improvements. The tax revenues will be extremely important in the coming years for Mountain View and Palo Alto, as both cities expect to use it to help finance a series of expensive grade separation projects along the Caltrain corridor. The tax measure is also expected to immediately fund a series of pilot projects to reduce noise along Highway 85.
The Measure B sales tax puts a half-cent surcharge on most purchases in Santa Clara County. Over its 30-year lifespan, the tax is expected to raise about $6.5 billion. More information on the Measure B spending plan can be found on the VTA website.