San Jose Poised to Oppose Diversion of Measure B Funds

Advocates urging the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to reallocate dollars from a recent tax measure to boost public transit funding may not get support from the San Jose City Council after all.

Last month, more than 30 people showed up at a VTA board of directors meeting to implore the VTA to divert funds from a half-cent sales tax hike passed by voters in 2016 to bus and light rail routes. Measure B, which will generate $6.3 billion over the 30-year lifespan of the tax, was sold to the public as a way to repair potholes, finish the San Jose BART extension and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Transit and climate activists, on the other hand, want to use some of that revenue to reduce Silicon Valley’s greenhouse gas emissions by upgrading and expanding public transit routes. Come Tuesday, however, the San Jose council will consider a proposal by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and council members Pam Foley, Dev Davis and Johnny Khamis to author a letter against those wishes.

“Out of respect for city and countywide voters, it is imperative that we, as a city, take an affirmative position to preserve and protect the original intent of Measure B as originally envisioned and understood by the voters who assented to the sales tax,” the four council members wrote in a Dec. 10 memo. “While we support other transit projects and regional environmental priorities and understand the inclination to reallocate funds for transit purposes, we must remain focused on delivering all Measure B listed transportation priorities as equally important and necessary.”

But more than half a dozen residents submitted letters ahead of the meeting to express their displeasure with the recommendation from Jones, Foley, Davis and Khamis.

“[Sixty-three] percent of greenhouse gas emissions in San Jose come from the transportation sector (mainly cars) so we really need better transit if we want to combat the climate crisis,” public transit advocate Monica Mallon wrote in an email to the council. “The Measure B reallocation is a way to increase bus and light rail funding quickly without increasing taxes. I believe that it is too premature of the San Jose City Council to send a letter opposing this important item before it has been heard at VTA.”

Katja Irvin and Gladwyn D’Souza, members of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter, echoed Mallon’s objections.

“The Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter supports efforts to reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel and increase alternatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions particularly given the extraordinary climate emergency the planet is facing,” they wrote in another dissenting letter. “The reallocation of transportation funding for public transportation is the kind of action local governments need to stand up and support to demonstrate a true commitment to solve this existential situation.”

According to the ballot language for Measure B, the VTA Board of Directors can reallocate funding from the measure if it’s approved by three-quarters of the 12 voting members. The transit agency would also need to put out a public notice to every city council in South Bay, as well as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, that notifies them about any plans to reroute funding to other uses.

The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the entire agenda. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

26 Comments

    • Yes, as an independent jurisdiction VTA could’ve put its own 1/8-cent (or whatever) tax on the ballot.

  1. Really!? Then why do we even vote? It seems this happens all too often. We vote… it passes….2 or 3 years goes by and finally the original measure is taking place and then all of a sudden…. “no way” – some “no-name” organization has their input!! [email protected]#*. We voted…. It passed….. Get over it!!!!

  2. Omg please don’t listen to the idiot masses. The longer the BART extension takes to construct, the more money we lose due to construction costs and revenue lost. The buses literally just got replaced with new ones less than two years ago. Otherwise, you idiot masses are just going to stretch funding too thin, while appropriating more debt than the VTA can pay back.

  3. A perfect example of why we must NOT vote for the new tax to build affordable homes. The money goes to the General Fund, and this type of situation happens. Every tax should be earmarked and protected from changing views.

  4. Yikes! VTA is a bottomless pit when it comes to spending money. I believe the current fare box recovery is about 13 percent… likely the worst of any major city/county in the country.

    • The only reason “fare box recovery” is any kind of figure of merit is that state law is structured to require that sort of local financial participation. It would be more efficient not to have fares at all. Most of the passengers are young, old, disabled, or otherwise unable to drive themselves.

      • Hi Vaquero. Please explain how making transit free would be more efficient. I can see how you might get more ridership (or maybe cost isn’t the issue), but how would that increase efficiency? Cost would be at least the same, probably higher but $ return would be less.

        • No fare box, no waiting for each passenger to pull out some sort of card or cash, no complicated fare schedule, no worrying about exact change or losing a prepaid card. Just hop on, hop off, have a nice day. More people would “freeload”, but we want public transit to serve more people, don’t we?

      • JMART, while I agree that electric cars (whether privately owned or part of shared fleets) will dominate the car market several years from now, that will not change the fact that we have too much demand for our road space, i.e. too many cars competing for a limited resource. Electric cars will not solve our congestion problem.
        .
        However, overlaying our existing transportation systems (cars, buses, LRT, BART, Uber, etc.) with an elevated system promises to make them all work better. Here in Milpitas, the area around the BART station is very congested (largely due to big corporations increasing the number of jobs by 30% while housing only increased 4%). Our plan is to build a dual-loop Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system to provide convenient, quick and safe transit around the area for residents, workers and customers. Learn more at http://sunnyhillsneighborhood.org/loopworks.html
        .
        If successful, the system will be expanded to cover more of Milpitas. Any Bay Area city plagued by congestion should be supporting this project in the hope that success here can be duplicated in many other places.

  5. Greg, yes, farebox recovery is about 13%, meaning that We the People subsidize those riding bus and LRT. If, like me, you are seriously concerned about our Climate Emergency, then a major subsidy like that may make sense.
    .
    John, that huge subsidy is why your statement about lost revenue is faulty: “The longer the BART extension takes to construct, the more money we lose due to construction costs and revenue lost.” VTA loses money on every ride!
    .
    Unfortunately, that huge subsidy won’t go down unless headways go down below 12 minutes. If a bus route has a bus come along every 20 minutes, then we must double the number of buses (and bus drivers) to make a real difference in ridership.
    .
    Greg, the biggest black hole for money at VTA seems to be the BART Burrow. It was bad enough to pay $230M/mile for the extension from Warm Spring to Berryessa. Now they want to spend just shy of $6000M for 6 miles for Phase 2 ($1000M/mile) that goes underground to Diridon Station. That is 4 times as much per mile, and overly big technology for the estimated 50,000 riders per day. A better and far cheaper option is using Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) technology to link Berryessa with Diridon: http://sunnyhillsneighborhood.org/area.html

    • Hey, Norman Kline. Is the 9% :”Fair Box Recovery” over and above the Fare Box Recovery?

  6. If you want more money for buses and light rail, put it on the ballot. It is not fair to “divert” money that was never intended for this purpose. These tactics make voters apprehensive about approving tax measures.

  7. Fact is that electric cars are going to replace gas cars at a far faster rate than investment in an already obsolete and ineffective “mass transit system.” that will take 15 or more years to build out. We need to invest in something that residents of thre county will actually use rather than pay through the nose for a BART system that only east bay residents will use to compete for our jobs.

    With (i) electric cars coming to supremacy by 2030, (ii) most electricity being renewable by 2030, and (iii) the electric car powertrain being more energy and efficient on a per passenger mile basis than any mass transit system when looking at actual vehicle occupancy and load factors, Why would we continue to shove money down the drain?

    • Dude, electric cars still are made of oil, rest on tires made of oil, and ride along a road surface… made of oil.

    • > With (i) electric cars coming to supremacy by 2030, (ii) most electricity being renewable by 2030, and (iii) the electric car powertrain being more energy and efficient on a per passenger mile basis than any mass transit system when looking at actual vehicle occupancy and load factors, Why would we continue to shove money down the drain?

      Elon Musk’s fleet of “robo-taxis” will be here a lot sooner than 2030.

      Think of cheap Uber everywhere, but without Uber drivers. (Sorry, Uber drivers, you are are too unsafe as a car driver and far too untrustworthy as a human being).

      Robo-taxis will be a death knell for VTA. Stiff competition for buses.

      And BART? BWAHAHAHAHA. The name of the main character on The SImpsons.

      Don’t know about most electricity being renewable by 2030. Seems like an enviro-wacko pipe dream. But still plenty of cheap natural gas and nuclear power.

  8. All the more reason to vote “no” on the upcoming “mega-measure.” We pay enough in sales tax and we don’t need a bait-and-switch.

    • Timothy Tsai, Voters approved Measure B (and other transportation-related tax measures) because they want something done about our transportation problems. Our elected representatives on the VTA Board choose how to spend the money. If they are as corrupt at the Republicans in the Senate, then they might do something immoral. However, that 75% majority threshold is a high bar, which is why only 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been passed of the thousands proposed. In short, don’t worry so much about VTA making a wild decision. Worry more about them not doing so when it is called for (like stopping the BART Burrow before we dump $6000M into that hole in the ground).
      .
      sjoutsidethebubble, since you are so cynical about democracy, does that mean that you prefer our current oligarchy or the authoritarian government that Trump wants?

      • > does that mean that you prefer our current oligarchy or the authoritarian government that Trump wants?

        Are those my only choices?

        Well, OK.

        I prefer the authoritarian government that Trump wants.

        The current oligarchy is pretty bad.

        • sjoutsidethebubble, be careful what you wish for if you really “prefer the authoritarian government that Trump wants.” The single most important defining characteristic of an authoritarian dictatorship is that the authoritarian leader uses the power of the state to maintain his own personal power. This is something that “divided government” – three separate branches of government that are coequal – was designed to prevent. It is something Trump has been doing from his first day in office.
          .
          We know what that looks like, and it ain’t pretty. We need to be very clear about what right-wing movements are. Right-wing movements are authoritarian, hierarchical, patriarchal and prone to violence. You look at the the hard right movements in the Islamic world, there is al-Qaeda and Isis. You look at the hard right movements that are growing in Europe, Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France and the new neo-nazi movements in Poland, Hungary and in Greece. They all associate themselves with militarism, with guns, with violence, with white supremacy and with male power.

  9. The Measure B text says, that “If approved by a 3/4 majority of the VTA Board of Directors, … VTA may modify the Program for any prudent purpose, including ….” Who in the world gets to decide what’s “produent”? Well, the VTA Board of Directors.

    So, if the VTA wants to divert any or all the money for public transit other than what is explicitly listed in the measure, they are legally allowed to do so. In fact, if they want to divert the 100% of the money to pensions or to take expensive trips to Hawaii, that would also be legal. Additional funding for public transit is arguably a good thing, but there is a long list of good things that weren’t presented to voters when Measure B was approved. Diverting money for (__insert your personal favorite pet project__) is a legal but immoral bait and switch for the voters.

    Then again, I guess it’s the fault of the voters who approved this tax that they actually believed the claims of the pitchmen.

    • > Then again, I guess it’s the fault of the voters who approved this tax that they actually believed the claims of the pitchmen.

      “Democracy” is government by the stupidest and most easily manipulated fifty-one percent.

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