The November 4 election brought sweeping changes across the nation, including in the realm of transportation. In Washington, a new Obama administration and an increasingly Democratic-controlled Congress will consider a new federal role for America’s surface transportation system, and an ambitious infrastructure-based economic-stimulus package. Back on the West Coast, California and Bay Area voters signaled a renewed commitment to transportation investments. With the BART extension to San Jose (Santa Clara County) finally declared a winner in late November, MTC can claim a perfect election scorecard: Voters agreed with five out of five ballot positions taken by the Commission in the fall of 2008 (four supports and one oppose).
California High-Speed Rail Bond Measure Approved
Voters throughout the state gave their approval to Proposition 1A, a $10-billion high-speed rail bond measure to link San Diego, Los Angeles, the Central Valley and the Bay Area. Statewide, the measure, which needed only simple majority approval, garnered 52 percent support, with even stronger approval in most of the nine Bay Area counties. The measure was supported by MTC.
North Bay Rail Measure Q Passes
Marin and Sonoma county voters together mustered the needed two-thirds support to pass Measure Q, with a combined approval of nearly 70 percent. An impressive 73.5 percent approval in Sonoma County bolstered the slightly weaker support in Marin County, where the measure had “just” 62.44 percent approval. Measure Q, also supported by MTC, authorizes a quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for a commuter rail system and bicycle-pedestrian pathway from Cloverdale in Sonoma County to near the Larkspur Ferry Terminal in Marin County.
AC Transit Property Tax Assessment Wins Easily
MTC-supported Measure VV to double AC Transit’s existing annual parcel tax of $48 per parcel for an additional 10 years won easily, with 72 percent of voters approving. The measure was on the ballot throughout the AC Transit service area, except in Union City and Fremont and in certain unincorporated areas of Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The parcel tax increase will help to address an estimated $20 million deficit.
Berkeley Removes Rapid-Bus Roadblocks
Berkeley voters overwhelmingly rejected a bid (with 77 percent voting “no”) to require voter approval before the city could dedicate a public street or lane to “bus-only, transit-only, or high occupancy vehicle-only use.” The measure was specifically aimed at requiring voter approval for the implementation of one of MTC’s priority transit expansion projects — AC Transit’s bus rapid transit (BRT) project from International Boulevard in Oakland to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.
Santa Clara County BART Sales Tax
The final votes have been tallied in Santa Clara County, and on Friday, Nov. 21, 2008, Measure B, which calls for a sales tax increase to help fund a 16-mile BART extension to San Jose and other points in Santa Clara County, was at last declared a winner with 66.78 percent of the vote, just above the two-thirds margin (66.67 percent) needed for approval of a special tax. The 30-year, 1/8-cent sales tax was supported by MTC. The money generated by the tax — estimated to be $51 million in its first year, 2013 — will offset operating and maintenance costs associated with extending BART into Santa Clara County.
Mixed Results for Local Self-Help Measures Elsewhere in California
A total of six self-help measures were on the ballot in California. Of these, three garnered the required two-thirds supermajority for approval, including an additional quarter-cent sales tax in Los Angeles County. Of those measures that failed, the lowest approval margin still garnered 62 percent approval.
MTC Takes Positions on State and Local Ballot Measures
September 2008 ... MTC took a support position on the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century (State Proposition 1A) at the full Commission meeting on Sept. 24, 2008.
In the final weeks of legislative session, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill (Assembly Bill 3034 - Galgiani) that made a number of changes to the bond measure. The $9.9 billion bond measure now
- includes updated route and terminus points to the adopted route;
- imposes a cap of 10 percent on the amount of bond funds to be used for studies and plans, and a cap of 2.5 percent on administrative expenses;
- requires the creation of an independent peer review group;
- specifies that Phase 1 of the system is the corridor between the San Francisco Transbay Terminal and Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, but allows funds to be spent on a number of other specific corridors — including (1) San Francisco to San Jose to Fresno, (2) Oakland to San Jose, and (3) Merced to Stockton to Oakland and San Francisco via the Altamont Corridor — as long as investment in those corridors advances the construction of the system and does not adversely affect Phase 1.
In recognition of MTC’s formal support of a statewide high-speed rail system taken in October 2007 through Resolution 3829, MTC took a support position on AB 3034 last June of 2008. The bond is consistent with the goal of Resolution 3829, namely to support the Pacheco alignment as the primary north/south alignment but to advance improvements for interregional and local rail travel between the Bay Area and the northern San Joaquin Valley.
Proposition 1A also contains $760 million for local rail connections to the high-speed rail system or for the rehabilitation, modernization and safety improvements to passenger rail tracks, signals, structures, facilities and rolling stock.
“Because the high speed rail bond has the potential to reduce Bay Area and statewide vehicle congestion, divert air passenger demand away from congested airports and onto rail, reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions and generate much needed funds for Bay Area transit operators, we recommend a support position on Proposition 1A,” the Legislation Committee noted in its memo to the full Commission.
Also in September 2008, the Commission took a support position on two local ballot measures:
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Sales Tax (Measure B)
If approved by two-thirds of the county’s voters, the 30-year, 1/8-cent sales tax will pay for operating and maintenance costs associated with extending BART into Santa Clara County. Collection of the tax would not begin until the requisite financing commitments could be obtained from the state and federal governments. Santa Clara County has a long history of approving local transportation sales taxes, most recently Measure A from the 2000 ballot. That half-cent measure featured a host of transit projects, including the BART extension, and was approved by more than 70 percent of the electorate.
MTC Resolution 3434 continues to support the BART extension from the current terminus in Fremont to the city of Santa Clara. The proposed tax would raise $51 million in its first year of collection, which is likely to be 2013, according to the Valley Transportation Authority. VTA estimates that extension subsidy payments to BART are projected to total $1.8 billion (escalated dollars) through 2036, and the 1/8-cent sales tax is projected to bring in $1.9 billion over that time period.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) Sales Tax Proposal (Measure Q)
Placed on the November ballot in Marin and Sonoma counties by the SMART District, Measure Q calls for a quarter-cent sales tax for construction and operation of a passenger rail system and connecting bicycle/pedestrian pathway along 70 miles of Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Railroad right-of-way. The measure requires two-thirds approval from voters in both counties. The measure would take effect in April 2009 and generate approximately $890 million (escalated dollars) over its 20-year life (approximately $45 million annually).
In November 2006, SMART placed before the voters in Marin and Sonoma counties a proposal to increase the local sales tax by 1/4-cent for 20 years to fund the project. In effect, the measure received a 65.3 percent majority, but needed 66.7 percent approval to be adopted.
Should the measure pass, SMART anticipates beginning rail service by fall of 2014. Fourteen stations are planned: Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa (two stations), Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma (two stations), Novato (two stations), San Rafael (two stations) and Larkspur. The expenditure plan also includes funding to complete a parallel bicycle-pedestrian pathway along the rail corridor linking the 14 stations.
The SMART corridor is included in MTC Resolution 3434, the Bay Area’s transit expansion blueprint. “Measure Q will provide the local funding leverage necessary to attract additional matching funds at all levels of government. It is a critical element for the North Bay’s efforts to provide travel options in the crowded Highway 101 Corridor,” the Committee wrote in its memo to the full Commission.
In October 2008, the Commission took a support position on:
Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District Parcel Tax Measure VV
Measure VV would double AC Transit’s existing parcel tax of $48 per parcel for 10 years. It will be on the ballot in every city where AC Transit provides service (except Union City and Fremont) and certain unincorporated areas of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. The parcel tax increase would raise an additional $14 million annually, helping to address an estimated $20 million deficit without a fare increase.
In October 2008, the Commission took an oppose position on:
Measure KK in the City of Berkeley: Voter Approval of Bus Rapid Transit
Measure KK – appearing on the ballot in the City of Berkeley – would require voter approval before the city could dedicate a public street or lane to “bus-only, transit-only, or high occupancy vehicle-only use.” The measure, titled the “Voters Right to Approve Certain Transportation Changes,” is specifically aimed at requiring voter approval for the implementation of one of MTC’s highest priority transit expansion projects – AC Transit’s bus rapid transit (BRT) project from International Boulevard in Oakland to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. This project is a top regional priority in MTC’s Transit Expansion Program (Resolution 3434).