VTA has placed three measures on this November’s Santa Clara County ballot: Measures, B, C and D. Santa Clara County voters are strongly urged to vote NO on all three measures. We’ll begin with Measure B.
If passed, Measure B would institute a thirty-year 1/8-percent sales tax in Santa Clara County to generate money to operate the BART to San Jose extension, in the event that state and federal contributions are secured. However, even with 2000 Measure A and 2008 Measure B funds combined, VTA will not likely have sufficient funding to build and operate the BART extension, which suggests that funds will be removed from other long-overdue projects like Caltrain electrification. VTA may also be forced to cut bus and light rail service, the successful operation of which ought to be a primary priority. This last point should be carefully considered: building BART will attract new riders (though not nearly as many as projected), but cutting VTA service will mean losing current riders; it is no coincidence that transit advocates are the very people who oppose the BART extension. In the end, the question to ask is not only what BART’s ridership will be, but what the net ridership will be — how many cars, on balance, will be taken off the roads? New BART riders cannot be viewed as a true victory unless there is an increase (and at this cost, a pretty monumental increase) in net ridership. The onus is on VTA to show that it can succesfully overcome all of these obstacles, and it has not done it so far. For more on why BART to San Jose is an ill-conceived project, read this series of posts.
Moreover, constructing just one BART corridor will not be nearly enough to transform Santa Clara County from the auto-oriented place it is now. Instead of diverting all accumulated funds to a single corridor, VTA would be well-advised to replace its BART plans with a robust (but nonetheless more cost-effective) rail link between Fremont and San Jose — and to pursue an aggressive portfolio of bus rapid transit and light rail extensions that would encompass the entire County, including those very projects that voters decreed should be allocated the bulk of 2000 Measure A funds. Such a program would yield dozens of stations instead of just six: meaning there would be far more than just six BART stations around which to build dense transit-oriented development; this is key if we ever hope to effect real change in Santa Clara County’s land use and travel patterns. The County absolutely deserves better transit than it has now, both rail and buses. But BART to San Jose is quite simply not the right fit.
And for that matter, voters are also encouraged to vote No on Measure C and No on Measure D, which are two additional ballot measures from VTA, both of which have the express goal of relieving VTA of accountability to Santa Clara County voters:
- Measure C: If passed, Measure C would constitute voter approval of the Valley Transportation Plan 2035 — before the VTA Board has formally adopted it, which it plans to do next month in December. Since 1976, VTA has been legally obliged to prepare a comprehenisve county-wide transportation plan every six years, and to submit said plan to voters for a non-legally binding “advisory vote.” As such, this obligation is neither new nor unexpected, and VTA should have had the 2035 iteration prepared in advance of the election. Why should voters approve a plan whose exact contents and funding priorities are unknown to them?
- Measure D: As mentioned above, VTA is obliged to prepare a comprehensive county-wide transportation plan and submit it to voters every six years for an advisory vote. Although advisory votes are not legally binding, they at least afford voters a modicum of oversight of VTA’s actions. Additional oversight exists in the form of the Citizen’s Watchdog Committee, which reviews VTA’s expenditures; the Citizen’s Watchdog Committee was established in 2000 Measure A. Now, if Measure D passes, it would eliminate the requirement that the plan be submitted every six years to voters, and only the Citizen’s Watchdog Committee would review future plans. This would deprive voters of the opportunity to offer advisory votes on any future VTA transportation plans — thereby removing the VTA Board’s already very minimal accountability to voters.
Unlike BART’s and AC Transit’s Board of Directors, whose members are directly elected, VTA Board members are appointed. Measures C and D seek to eliminate what little power voters now have to review VTA’s actions and hold the agency accountable. Santa Clara County voters are strongly encouraged to be a voice for true transit justice and vision — and to express disapproval of VTA’s lack of the same — by voting No on Measures B, C, and D.