Legislation introduced to allow Caltrain sales tax

Senate Bill 979 seeks to place measure on ballot to support agency's capital, operating costs

State legislation introduced Wednesday would allow Caltrain to seek voter approval for a new sales tax to help cover capital and operating costs.

Senate Bill 797, introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, along with several other Bay Area senators and Assembly members, would authorize the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which runs Caltrain, to place a one-eighth-cent sales tax on the ballot in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

The measure could only be placed on the ballot once the joint powers board gives it two-thirds approval. The boards of supervisors for San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and transportation authorities in the three counties would also have to approve it.

Caltrain currently runs on voluntary contributions from the three counties participating in the joint powers authority and is the only passenger rail service in the U.S. to be financed in that manner.

SB 797 is intended to end fluctuations in those contributions and establish a reliable funding source, according to Hill.

Caltrain, which carries commuters between Gilroy and San Francisco, is currently operating over capacity and needs funding to meet demands for increased service, he said.

"Our region is an economic powerhouse for our state, but its continued growth is jeopardized if our residents cannot get back and forth to work, school and their families because our main transportation corridor cannot accommodate them," Hill said.

The legislation was introduced with the backing of Peninsula business groups including the San Mateo County Economic Development Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

"Highway 101 has become so congested that we've changed its name to the 101 Parking Lot," Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino said. "This bill would enable voters to dramatically increase Caltrain's ridership capacity, which would be transformative in the congested 101 corridor."

The text of the bill can be found at


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3 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:10 pm

This sounds reasonable, but the article is unclear. It implies that the tax would replace money from the counties' joint power authority. But then what happens to all the joint power money no longer being used to fund Caltrain? Could the author of the article please explain?

26 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:41 am

Strange article in the paper today - Gov. Jerry wants to fire the state Board of Equalization because they are not distributing tax money correctly - or as assigned. I don't know what that means but think we need to find out where the existing money is going before we vote for more money. It is possible there already is enough money but just poorly managed. It is all very unclear - we need to get more facts before we throw more money at the state.

27 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:28 am

Ok, I looked at the text of the bill.

Duly noted is the existing law "... the combined rate of all taxes that may be imposed in accordance with that law in the county not exceed 2%." That is the agreement we have with the State under Senate Bill 566 (2003).

This new bill SB797 then goes on to circumvent that law: "The bill would authorize the board to exceed the 2% limit described above ..."

Many jurisdictions in California have already found ways around the 2% limit, for example much of Alameda County. San Jose is right at the 2% limit, and this bill would put them over. In Palo Alto we now are locally at 1.75%, added to the current statewide 7.25%, totaling 9.00%.

My point is we could come up with a hundred necessities where an 1/8 percent sales tax would help, and each of these straws might squeek by 2/3 of the voters, which to my mind is why that 2% cap was enacted.

40 people like this
Posted by Let Businesses Pay
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2017 at 7:22 am

Of course CalTrain and 101 are over-crowded but let businesses pay for this one; they're the ones who keep pushing everything to the limit while their toadies keep telling us they shouldn't pay even while they're the ones profiting. Let them subsidize their workers' transit costs, NOT us.

Eliminate BUSINESS's Prop 13 exemptions. Get rid of PA's TDMA with its corporate ant-resident bias! I'm tired of having to sacrifice going to all sorts of cultural events to because traffic's so bad we keep missing the events even though we're adding extra hours to our trips. Let BUSINESSES pay for the bike bridges that get people to Google, etc.

35 people like this
Posted by enough, already
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 22, 2017 at 9:21 am

Are you effing kidding me? enough with the tax increases already. State taxes, local taxes, they always go up. Vote NO.

Let Carl, Mike and the rich silicon valley types cough up this time.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:12 am

So, I guess it's SB 797, not SB 979?

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:40 am

^ yeah Gale, dyslexic subheading. Don't know whether that's Bay City News Service, or the Weekly editors. When there's a byline, I click on it and email the writer directly.

1 person likes this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 22, 2017 at 12:20 pm

In response to "Let business pay".
Who should pay for the transportation of people going to work? The system now is that people going by car pay for their own vehicle expenses, taxes pay for the roads, and some combination of business and worker pay for parking places.
With rail, it is the same mix of ingredients, with some businesses paying for rail passes, workers paying for parking at stations and transport to stations, and taxes and riders paying for the rail ride. Bicycles also uses tax payer supported roads.
Thus having taxes pay for part of transportation costs of workers is part of our existing system.

Proposition 13 was designed to transfer the tax burden from businesses to residential property and it has been very successful doing that. I think it should be repealed for that and many other reasons. However, that is a different issue than how to fund Caltrain.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Caltrain benefits everybody who drives, not just businesses or Caltrain riders.
A sales tax spreads the burden more equitably. Much better would be a gas tax, but that is a political lift for another day.

13 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm

@chris, we got that gas tax coming in November. Even more for diesel.
And higher vehicle fees on top of it.

12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2017 at 4:05 pm

@Chris, we were told the recent sales tax for funding VTA was good for us, too, at least until the VTA told us we already had PA shuttle service so we don't need the VTA services for which we're now stuck paying.

12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

@ Chris,

Caltrain's benefits to all have been highly exaggerated. Only 30,000 people, or less than 1% of the Peninsula's population of +3,000,000, are regular weekday users of Caltrain.

The US Department of Transportation breaks down car use as follows:

45% of daily trips are taken for shopping and errands.
27% of daily trips are social and recreational, such as visiting a friend.
15% of daily trips are taken for commuting (to work).

Caltrain only really replaces the the %15 commuting fraction of car use. Caltrain users are still doing 85% if their travel by car, bus, or bike.

So, on a typical weekday Caltrain only takes the equivalent of about 4,500 people or ~0.15% of the peninsula's population off of the roads.

12 people like this
Posted by Carl G
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2017 at 8:05 am

"The legislation was introduced with the backing of Peninsula business groups including the San Mateo County Economic Development Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group."

Because our fat cat companies don't want to pay for it.

3 people like this
Posted by One Away
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

@Ahem 60000 = 30000 = 4500 = 0. OK.

Your math is a little off, but you get an A-plus 'cause this is Palo Alto and we inflate grades to get into good schools.
Riders, or trips, or bellybuttons, or cars on the road or % population. You wrap yourself around the wheel (train or car) and end up facing the way you arrived. Backwards and in a tizzy. See the light my friend. Also, not cool to "like" your own posts so many times - no body will take you seriously.

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

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