14 Jul Marin officials vet $100 billion transportation mega-measur…
Silicon Valley and Bay Area business groups are floating the idea of a $100 billion transportation mega-measure to transform the region’s transit network.
Details about the measure, including how it will be funded, are still unknown, with Marin County transportation officials questioning the approach to these transit projects and what Marin would get out of the funding measure.
“For the North Bay counties to support some kind of a revenue increase like a sales tax, there’s got to be something in there that we see helping to address our problems,” Transportation Authority of Marin Executive Director Dianne Steinhauser said during the agency’s board of commissioners meeting last week. “I don’t know if we’d vote for a Dumbarton rail line if that’s the only thing that shows up on the list.”
Dubbed “Faster Bay Area,” the proposed ballot measure is in its early planning and outreach stages, but seeks to raise $100 billion from nine Bay Area counties over several decades to overhaul and integrate the region’s transit services. Ideas for changes include more frequent and efficient BART, Caltrain and ferry trips; adding express toll and bus lanes on local highways; and construction of a second BART crossing under San Francisco Bay.
The effort is being led by the business advocacy organization Silicon Valley Leadership Group in partnership with the Bay Area Council business association and the urban planning think-tank SPUR. Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the goal of the ballot measure is “to build a seamlessly integrated world-class transit system that serves the transit-dependent and lures the non-transit dependent out of their vehicles.”
Backers hope to release a draft of the measure later this year and possibly place it on the 2020 ballot. Unlike the Regional Measure 3 bridge toll hikes passed by voters in the nine counties in 2018, the Faster Bay Area measure would need to garner a two-thirds majority support from voters to pass.
While details on the proposal are being developed, the Transportation Authority of Marin Board of Directors discussed a list of dream projects that it could pitch for funding and possibly get local voters on board.
These included extending the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line to Larkspur Landing; providing SMART service from Novato to Suisun City; a down payment for the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge replacement to include rail service from San Rafael to Richmond; express bus routes on Highway 101 and Interstate 580; and Highway 37 improvements among others.
But before focusing on projects, TAM board member and San Anselmo Councilman Brian Colbert said they should be looking at the bigger picture of how transportation will change in the next 20 to 40 years.
“If the focus is getting people in and out of Silicon Valley, I’m always wondering ‘But why?’” Colbert told the board. “Why are people working from home? Why are we stuck in this old mode of moving people back and forth to digital jobs?
“I know it’s very early on,” Colbert continued, “but I would sort of encourage what is the philosophical foundation by which TAM really wants to bring innovation and perhaps have Marin really be a leader in whatever this looks like before you go to the taxpayers asking for yet more money, instead of potentially a wish list of stuff.”
David Schonbrunn, president and founder of the San Rafael-based Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, or TRANSDEF, said he agrees with Colbert, but said he hasn’t seen that type of thinking in the 25 years he’s followed Bay Area transportation. While he agrees with the overall goal of transforming the transit network to make it more convenient, efficient and fast, Schonbrunn said the proposal’s backers only have a history of getting large amounts of money for projects. TRANSDEF recently filed a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint regarding promotion of Regional Measure 3 that named all three of Faster Bay Area’s backers.
“The next regional transportation plan is being developed right now,” Schonbrunn said. “Instead of the nonsense that gets adopted every four years that just encourages more driving and more highways, these organizations could push for a focus on transit now. That would show me that they’re serious about this.”
While Schonbrunn said TRANSDEF said it’s too early to take a position on the yet-to-be-developed measure, he said he agreed with a recent Mercury News editorial. The editorial called for integrating the Bay Area’s 26 bus, train and ferry agencies and nine congestion management agencies and having businesses that have in part exacerbated regional traffic issues to pay their fair share.
‘A huge mountain to scale’
Faster Bay Area was inspired by similar measures that were recently passed in Los Angeles and Seattle. The “Move Seattle” measure passed in 2015 and raises $54 billion over 20 years from property taxes. Los Angeles’ Measure M was approved in 2016 to raise $120 billion over 40 years.
But passing any type of tax measure across nine Bay Area counties with a super-majority vote will be an uphill battle, especially in a 2020 election where other measures will be competing for voters’ money, said Sonoma State University political science department chairman and professor David McCuan. While Regional Measure 3 failed to pass in some counties, those votes were offset by other counties. The measure passed with 55 percent voter approval. A two-thirds majority requirement, however, changes all of that.
“That is a huge mountain to scale because the commuters live in Solano County; the voters live in Marin County,” McCuan said. “The commuters and the voters are not always the same so you need offsets.”
Sure to be contested is whether some of the money from the measure would fund the development of affordable housing, as some public officials and advocacy organizations have suggested. As real estate prices have risen in the nine-county Bay Area, people are increasingly moving farther away in search of affordable homes, Bay Area Council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said, often spending three or more hours each day in their cars getting to and from work.
“The farther people travel, the more demand there is for bigger solutions,” he said. “There is no question this region has to address housing, but how we do that, that is still to be discussed.”
McCuan said adding housing to the mix would be a “death knell” to the measure.
Tax measures in general usually start with a lower level of support than others, McCuan said. Add in the fact that the proposed Faster Bay Area projects will take a decade or more to complete, McCuan said some voters — especially the growing independent voters — will be hard to convince.
“They’re not necessarily going to see benefits to something like this right away,” McCuan said. “And if they’re uncertain at any level they vote no.”
Who ends up paying for these transit improvements or how the payment is divided up will absolutely have an effect on voter support, McCuan said.
“The fine line is not just throwing this on the backs of middle class voters who are trying to work for a living and trying to get to their job,” he said. “It’s who puts skin in the game and what does that look like.”
Bay Area News Group contributed to this…