Response to Arguments Against Measure B | Invest & Innovate | Steve Levy | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Invest & Innovate

By Steve Levy

E-mail Steve Levy

About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

View all posts from Steve Levy

Response to Arguments Against Measure B

Uploaded: Oct 19, 2016
Santa Clara County Measure B proposes to spend $6.3 billion over 30 years for transportation improvements financed by a 1/2 cent increase in the sales tax.

The comments on my blog and on the Weekly endorsement blog were almost entirely negative. There were several themes.

--environmental and transit groups oppose the measure

--VTA runs a bad system and folks did not like the El Camino BRT proposal.

--many did not support the BART extension to San Jose and Santa Clara

--some felt that this was a San Jose centric project and north county was not getting much

--some did not trust VTA and thought this would end up a bait and switch

--and some just don't like tax increases

With regard to the first allegation most environmental, transit and low income advocacy groups actively support Measure B including the Santa Clara County League of Conservation Voters, the Santa Clara League of Women Voters, Working Partnerships (a low and middle income advocacy group) who cosigned an op ed in the Merc, the South Bay Labor Council, Friends of Caltrain and SPUR

With regard to VTA operations, the BRT proposal and the BART extension I am slightly skeptical but the positives way outweigh the negatives.

--$700 for north county CalTrain grade separation,

--$500 million for services to low income and disabled residents,

--$1,2 billion that flows to cities to repair and maintain streets

--$1.5 billion to improve safety on county roads by fixing potholes and making interchanges safer

--$250 million for bike and pedestrian work, $300 million for Caltrain improvement

I am not willing to give that up to "send a message" and wait two or more years for the solid parts of the proposal.

If you look at the projects except for the BART extension this is clearly not a San Jose centric project. San Jose has over 50% of the county population and is not getting a more than proportional share of the funds.

Two thirds of the money supports drivers, low income residents, bikers and pedestrians neighbors and riders of Caltrain.

While I am not enthusiastic about how VTA has run operations in the past (they are trying to become more efficient) I listened to the board meeting approving this measure and found the board to be thoughtful and progressive. San Jose has 6 seats on an 18 member board, less than there proportionate share of the county population.

For those serious about addressing transportation challenges, you do this best by supporting Measure B and paying attention to the implementation.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 19, 2016 at 10:08 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"San Jose has 6 seats on an 18 member board, less than there proportionate share of the county population."

This gives a misleading impression of the split. The Board has 12 voting members and 6 alternates. The City of San Jose has 5 of the 10 seats allocated to cities, but only 1 of the 5 alternates. The remaining two voting seats and one alternate go to members of the County Board of Supervisors.

If you look at where the sympathies and constituents of the Supervisors with voting seats are, the voting seats are 7-to-5 in favor of San Jose.

Board membership: Web Link and click on the "Members" tab.

Posted by Gladwyn D'Souza, a resident of another community,
on Oct 19, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Do you know the way to San Jose? Dione Warwick would not recognize the south bay today. VTA has turned it into LA. She is just as likely to find burned out vulture capitalists parking cars and pumping gas. Thirty years ago I rode my bicycle about 30 miles a day to work places in Mountain View, North San Jose and Sunnyvale. But over the last twenty years I've seen great bicycling streets like San Thomas Expressway, Central, and Lawrence turn into mini freeways. The streets expanded while the space has narrowed on the shoulder- many places are four feet and a concrete wall. Measure B has funding to turn Lawrence into a real Big Dig freeway. I recently crashed my bike on 10th at Heading and have had to take the bus. An average trip with transfers is almost two hours. Meanwhile congested freeways have lead to congested expressways and now congested neighborhood streets. Putting $250M of bike improvements on Carmegeddon is lipstick on a pig. Voting No on Measure B says we need functioning alternatives today for the disabled, the poor, and the rest of us. Trumped up trickle down transit will never work- Leadership toll lanes are not an alternative.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 11:19 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

To Doug and Gladwyn

So we have established that San Jose has representation in or slightly less than their 54% of the county population.

That does not argue against the benefits I cite unless you are arguing that the board members who crafted this compromise proposal were not acting in good faith.

This is not money devoted to VTA's bus and light rail proposals and their day to day operations. So whatever people think of those operations and I think past performance has been mediocre at best, the vast majority of these funds go to Caltrain, the cities, highway and freeway safety, bike and pedestrian programs and the BART extension.

I do not buy the let's send them a message position. No one is going to get exactly AND ONLY what they want no matter whether the measure passes or fails.

I have not heard any convincing argument that the benefits I cite are not real and important to drivers, transit riders and the economy and community in our county.

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Steve, you claim to reject "sending a message" to VTA. Yet we're now asked to approve this tax measure's terms, which implicitly address the VTA board's past bad faith. Do they go far enough?

Joe Simitian, whom I respect, stresses the negotiated change in the VTA-board voting rules this time, impeding (but not preventing) still more dishonored commitments via fund diversions after the election. But isn't it a little late to present that board as any sort of reliable fiduciaries? If they'd *not* broken past promises to voters; if they'd even crafted Measure B to regain some good faith (like, NO new BART-to-SJ sinkhole monies; make good failed past commitments; NO post-election changes allowed), then "all" we'd still have to worry about is the prospect of 9.25% sales tax. Almost TWICE what we got by with fine, when I was growing up in this region (and with a smaller economy then to tax).

Longtime watchers of San-Jose transportation planning notice two perennial themes: political allies rewarded, and a fantasy that the right formula might (at long last) transmute SJ into the prestigious metropolis its boosters always dreamed of. Such factors steered VTA's original Light-Rail routing (not practical but political, routing through downtown SJ instead of between residents and jobs, producing record low ridership for such a system). They surfaced in periodic failed schemes to "revitalize" SJ's downtown. Lately, these factors influenced the VTA board's strategy of promise-them-anything-but-give-them-BART.

For more background on the political culture that has governed VTA, read up on SJ's machine politics and its history of scandals. Current VTA chair Cindy Chavez is a familiar name among SJ politicians, though one who has has escaped the fates of close collaborators like former City Council member Terry Gregory (resigned in disgrace in a plea deal), former Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. (pled guilty to multiple felonies), Web Link or former Council member Xavier Campos (linked to election dirty tricks along with Shirakawa). Web Link

Posted by The Big Lie, a resident of another community,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm

BART is coming to San Jose and has already been overfunded. What has not been completely funded is extending it from Berryessa to downtown, largely in an expensive underground tunnel. The big lie is that people are given the impression that the extra money in Measure B is needed to get BART to San Jose at all. The timing of the request for extra money is misleading.

Vote no on B. VTA can take the remaining $5 Million from the previous funding measures and use it to do other projects which benefit the county as a whole. It's already too much to have spend almost all of this funding on BART to San Jose, but that's water under the bridge. Don't let them compound the misallocation by spending the $6 Billion plus on the subway in downtown San Jose. The nature of the subway makes it ONLY benefit those in downtown San Jose, who have already received 90% of the benefit from the previous tax measures. When approved, they had many other projects for the rest of the county that were cast aside when BART costs rose over time.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

"I have not heard any convincing argument that the benefits I cite are not real and important to drivers, transit riders and the economy and community in our county."

Incremental benefits yes, but as an economist you should be familiar with cost/benefit analysis. What about the costs? Must we continue to flush money down "BART to San Jose" in order to get any small incremental benefit for anything else? What do you think would happen if they avoided the bait-and-switch measure B ("B" for bait-and-switch / "B" for BART to San Jose) that has been put forth and did the "good faith" thing and put two measures on the ballot ... one tax increase devoted to BART to San Jose and one tax increase devoted to "fixing potholes". Which one(s) would pass ?

"That does not argue against the benefits I cite unless you are arguing that the board members who crafted this compromise proposal were not acting in good faith." ...

That would be a valid suspicion based upon past performance... not saying they are deliberately lying at this time, but when push comes to shove money can and will be conveniently diverted with some constructed justification. In the end its all one pot of money ... even a measure 100% devoted to "fixing potholes" would be used and other money that could have been used for "fixing potholes" just diverted to BART to San Jose. That is why they can "compromise" in "good faith" as long as they can grow their pot of money.

question: how many overlapping sales tax measures to fund BART to San Jose are enough?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "So we have established that San Jose has representation in or slightly less than their 54% of the county population."

No, Steve. What I pointed out was that your presentation of the representation was disingenuous, if not deceptive. I left it to the reader to decide how to regard the credibility of the remainder of what you said.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 4:27 pm

"I am not willing to give that up to "send a message" and wait two or more years for the solid parts of the proposal."

I am. Haste makes waste in government adventures as well as in private enterprises. Let's decide this when we have solid information to base our decision on.

Posted by Steve Ly, a resident of Los Altos,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Enough is enough.

Santa Clara County residents are already paying three sales taxes to VTA, a permanent 1/2 cent that was approved in 1976, plus the more recent Measures A and B, whose revenues are mostly going down the BART sinkhole. Plus, we're paying a Vehicle Registration Fee on top of that. Yet this is not enough, they want more tax money to flush down the BART toilet while eliminating local routes.

People forget we just approved a VTA tax in 2008 and the Vehicle registration fee in 2010.

Vote NO.

Posted by Shari, a resident of Martens-Carmelita,
on Oct 20, 2016 at 10:36 pm

I hope the taxpayers will refuse to be bled by B. I'm certainly doing all I can to encourage a NO vote, as the VTA bureaucracy has proven to be careless as well as outright wasteful with taxpayer money. We are all too aware of their poor planning and misuse of funds to give them yet a FIFTH tax.
Their bus plan is a joke. The huge double busses have, on average, 4 to 5 passengers most hours of the day. They don't connect to where people want to go, and they are a 20th century technology that only becomes more outdated by the day. The future is in self-driving cars, Uber, Lyft, etc. that will pick you at YOUR chosen time at YOUR home and take you where you really want to go. They would do well to sell these wasteful oversized busses, and use 12 passenger vans instead, but they won't do that because they'd rather overkill with these monstrosities and manipulate the system to suck in more Federal dollars they could flush down the rabbit hole. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to their lane-grab on El Camino, but they are so out of touch, that they think they can FORCE the public onto busses my bringing El Camino to a standstill and diverting massive traffic to side streets as well. They are beyond arrogant.
No, the positives do NOT outweigh the negatives. It is clear the VTA is not responsive to the taxpayers and they cannot be trusted with our dollars. Perhaps if they are knocked back a bit by voters, they will realize their erratic behavior, their failures, their poor planning and their distain for voters is the reason we all VOTE NO ON B.

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:25 am

I would vote for it if I thought "grade separation" meant "tunnel" - which would create incredibly valuable right of way above the tracks for small electric cross town shuttles or bikes. I don't want to give someone funding to force a raised structure down the center of Palo Alto. After PAUSDs facilities bond, which was sold as renewing the favilities for the next century but was treated like an optional pet project list, I want to know specifics before I will approve. I think voters should be given an overt choice to pay for a tunnel. If this gets passd, that option will never happn.

Posted by Scott L, a resident of another community,
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:46 am

Scott L is a registered user.

Measure B promises a lot of seemingly wonderful items as you mention.
But it is the answer to the wrong question.

The question should be this:
What is the best bang for buck way to vastly improve the flow of people in various modes of transportation over the next 30+ years as we gain our share of workers and residents in a booming Bay Area. (Plan Bay Area 2040 from ABAG/MTC says the 9 county Bay Area will add 1.3 Million households by 2040 - even factoring in multiple booms and busts)

Instead the question has once again become:

How can the SVLG create a tax bill to most likely win passage for VTA?

(while at the same time cement the reputation of SVLG as a good steward of the industry while insulating SVLG member companies from paying their fair share of taxes and only pretend to solve the horrendous congestion [that the SVLG/VTA strategies have helped create])

How did SVLG and VTA solve this question?

- Old school politics and pork barrel giveaways to local municipalities and (wink winks) to non-profits in exchange for their endorsements

- VTA's Envision Silicon Valley process masquerading as CEQA planning and outreach

- Utilizing criticisms from the communities and using that language in the SVLG/VTA talking points but not really fully implementing it (aka "Lipstick on a Pig")

- Referencing experts but not asking experts that push Modern Best Practices

- Using the media to spread the talking points

- Using the paid off endorsements to build credibility of their wretched plan and criticizing anyone like the Sierra Club and smearing them


What should SVLG and VTA have done?

Admitted the following:

- VTA's actions and inactions have led to the escalating congestion

- That local municipalities inaction on land use and letting companies expand at brokeneck pace without solving the housing and transportation problems is toxic

- VTA culture needs to change and they would have changed their governance, style, structue and laid out a plan for direct voting for the VTA Board Members

- Been fully transparent on costs of BART and other major projects past, present and futue

- Innovated according to best practices that other communities are engaging in

- Stop gutting transit (while claiming you're adding money)

- Stop investing 80% into BART

- Invest heavily according to the Transportation/Congestion Management and Land Use Best Practices, not the Political Pork Barrel method that SVLG and VTA have chosen

- Create Audits that have teeth and consequences

- Better representation among the population

- True focus on Equity

- Mode independent - but focus on throughput and customer satisfaction

- Fully follow environmental goals and laws NOW and not waiting years or decades

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Oct 21, 2016 at 7:49 am

If I understand AB-464, passed by the California legislature last year, the absolute legal upper limit of aggregate sales tax is now 10.5%. This Measure B would eat up a sizable chunk of our remaining local sales tax headroom. Hope we don't need to raise much money for anything else in the next 30 years. But I'm sure we can always find something else to tax.

Posted by VTA's History of failure= No Vote, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:34 pm

This is the only one I'm 100% sure of how I will vote and I'm doing all I can in my community to encourage others to also vote NO on B.

VTA is a failure factory with a VAST history of big promises which in reality turned into massive failures. Light-rail even made national press on its utter failure. With 3 current taxes and nothing to show VTA comes begging for more? Hahaha.

Vote NO on B. We'll leave any VTA involvement out of the next measure and it should pass.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

It is good the measure is not about VTA's bus program and management.

It is about fixing roads and interchanges, Caltrain improvements and grade separation, funds for low income and disabled residents, bike and pedestrian improvements and funding for a BART extension (25% of the funds capped).

I want to take this opportunity to again thank our mayor Pat Burt who fought hard for the grade separation funds and with our neighbors for the interests of north county cities. I think some appreciation for Pat's work is due even from those of you grumpy about VTA.

Posted by Andrew Boone, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Oct 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

This article, like most, ignores the $1.85 billion allocated in Measure B towards highway projects. The result is bigger highways, more auto traffic, and permanent damage to our communities.

How will it impact you when Lawrence Expressway is depressed under just four intersections for $540 million? Other than wasting the opportunity to invest in transit, of course, the new "improved" Lawrence Expressway will dump even more car traffic onto Highways 101, 237, 280, and El Camino Real.

Expect more of the same under VTA's Measure B: Traffic Jams, Transit Cuts.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 22, 2016 at 1:54 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Andrew Boone

Are you really against filling potholes and re engineering interchanges to improve safety and save drivers time and money?

There is no road expansion in the project, just improvements.

These negative comments are an interesting mixture of saying VTA can't run transit services and people saying even more money should be given to VTA to run transit services.

I disagree with people who say improving road safety and fixing potholes is a bad idea and I have never driven a car.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 22, 2016 at 5:33 pm

"It is good the measure is not about VTA's bus program and management."

I beg to differ. It is very much about VTA's management--especiallly the dreary prospect that it will continue to be the dismal failure that it has doggedly been.

Posted by @Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 22, 2016 at 7:08 pm

Love ya! You are so damned dry and funny. I always look forward to reading what you have to say. It's smart, thoughtful and immensely entertaining.

Posted by It's not the job, its the agency, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Oct 23, 2016 at 8:23 am

Fixing potholes is a great idea. Cutting the costs of a bloated bureaucracy to free up the funds for fixing potholes, instead of piling on a 4th VTA tax is the better and the RIGHT idea.

Again, it has nothing to do with the work. It has everything to do with a mis-managed government agency who only knows how to ask for more money to do even the most simple of tasks they are charged with, like fixing potholes.
VTA needs to cut costs, not keep coming back to me saying "More money please. We need more money again. And again, more money please. Oh, guess what? We need more money".

After they make those internal cuts, then they will have the funds for all the neat jobs we all agree need to be done. The money is already in VTA's hands. They are just choosing to spend it on over paid and over staffed middle managers.

Voting No on B tells VTA "You already have our money, you just need to spend it ore wisely."

Posted by Scott L, a resident of another community,
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Scott L is a registered user.

@Stephen Levy -

We are all for safety, but VTA is expanding interchanges, freeways via "auxilary lanes" as well as "transit lanes" which VTA/SVLG secretly want to get changed to "Lexus Lanes" once San Jose pushes for their changes. There are also widened sections of expressways and spending $540 Million to convert Lawrence Expressway into a "freeway" for approximately one mile section.

All of this increases speeds and creates "Induced Demand." Neither increases safety or helps with long term "Congestion Management.

It will make traffic worse, not better. We need to see that if we're going to have at least 30% more people moving through the county we need to think throughput that also meets timelines and environmental laws. The only way is to INVEST in INNOVATIVE ways to solve this.

Even with electric cars being autonomous, it does not meet this. We need a combination of more transit with effective bus routes off of these backbones. A robust CalTrain with ALL of the interchanges modified will help. The wasteful $4 Billion for BART between San Jose/Diridon and Santa Clara is better spent on CalTrain and other transit. (claiming it's only $1 Billion for BART for that six mile section [mostly underground] is an insult to our intelligence).

Yes, we need to find ways to fix our roads and keep them in "A state of good repair" but there are other ways then a deeply regressive tax. A traffic impact fee on businesses is one such way to solve it. There are others that are open to debate in various cities regionally.

So please vote NO on Measure B and join us in creating a better tax in 2018 as well as getting enough valid voter signatures to get a 2018 (or 2017?) ballot measure for DIRECT ELECTION OF VTA BOARD MEMBERS that would ensure voter representation across the valley as well as direct consequences for the VTA Board Member votes!

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 3,202 views

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,242 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Ch. 1, page 1
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,372 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.