An appellate court ruled Thursday that Santa Clara County’s half-cent sales tax—passed by voters in 2016 as Measure B—is legal, contrary to a Saratoga woman’s claim that the ballot language was unclear and misleading.
Cheriel Jensen, a 79-year-old Saratoga resident and retired architect, sued to block the measure in 2017, accusing the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) of deceiving voters over how much of the $6.3 billion in tax proceeds would go to the BART extension from Fremont to downtown San Jose.
Jensen’s lawsuit was dismissed by a trial court judge earlier in 2017, but she took her case to the 6th District Court of Appeal. On Thursday, an appellate panel upheld the lower court’s decision.
“We find her arguments pertaining to the validity of Measure B are meritless,” the appeals court said in its ruling.
While the county has collected the tax since April last year, it has had to keep the revenue in an escrow account until the litigation is resolved. As of this week, the balance in that account is $274 million, according to the VTA.
Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino, one of the measure’s biggest backers, said Jensen’s obstructionism undermines the will of the electorate.
“It’s rather ironic that the main roadblock blocking road and transit improvements is a frivolous lawsuit by a single resident in Santa Clara County who continues to thwart the will of 72 percent of the voters who approved Measure B in 2016,” Guardino, a member of the California Transportation Commission, said in a news release. “Two courts have now found the arguments against Measure B’s tax proceeds to be meritless. If she drags this on with further appeals, she will be continuing to thumb her nose at 1.9 million residents eager for traffic relief, road repairs and transit improvements.”
Measure B sunsets in three decades. Its proceeds will pay to upgrade and expand roadways and public transit in 15 South Bay cities, build the BART line to downtown San Jose and the city of Santa Clara and improve pedestrian and bike paths.
The lawsuit never claimed that the measure was “unclear and misleading.” It claimed correctly that the measure was not written in compliance with state law (specifically Government Code section 50075.1, subdivisions (a) and (b) which contains 2 of 4 mandatory “accountability provisions” to be included in every local special tax measure). The measure also failed to include the 2 other “accountability provisions” mandated by subdivisions (c) and (d) of the same code section – but those points were not raised when the case was filed on January 9, 2017 and could not be added for technical reasons involving the legal process for “reverse validation” (aka invalidation) under Code of Civil Procedure section 863. The Court of Appeal is not likely to change its ruling before it becomes final in 30 days and the California Supreme Court grants review in 1 in 100 civil cases in which review is sought. So the VTA may have gotten away with the money. But the decision of the Court of Appeal failed to address the legal or practical effect of the SWITCH PROVISION in Measure B that purports to allow the VTA Board by 3/4 vote to NOT fund any or all of the projects advertised in the measure and use the money on other projects or even just higher salaries. The presence of the SWITCH PROVISION was and is the central basis for the lawsuit. Voters may get NOTHING “promised.”
Carl Guardino talks like a frustrated loser. The court didn’t find her suit “frivolous” and it looks like she has exactly one further appeal available, which wouldn’t work anyway. The lazy VTA bureaucracy simply wouldn’t deign to reply to an email from an ordinary citizen within the timeframe required by law so she had to go to court for an answer. Now she knows the statutory authority for Measure B, chapter and verse.
You should’ve also mentioned her attorney was Gary B. Wesley, the famous professional anti-tax advocate.
Carl is an empty suit, much like Gavin. Thank You Gary Wesley!
II agree with Mr. Guardino. It’s ridiculous that a single person’s lawsuit can hold up the will of the voters. At a minimum, the funds should flow unless the measure is overturned, which now has been rejected at multiple levels. We all have to deal with overwhelming Bay Area traffic congestion and want construction to get going.
As for Mr. Westly, if you were really interested in getting the law right, you could have “helped” while the measure while it was being crafted. You certainly did not present an argument on the “no” side of the ballot. So cut out the nonsense. Win through votes, not the courts