Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Carl Guardino's war against Caltrain

Recently posted in the VTA Riders' Union mailing list is an email from Carl Guardino regarding SVLG's private poll on the proposed sales tax. It will be posted in its entirety in the comment section.

Similar to the other "polls" done by SVLG, it is claiming that the BART extension is still the top priority. It is also claiming that Caltrain "service and station improvements," new light rail lines, and people mover to the airport have similar ratings, meanwhile singling out Caltrain electrification as the lowest priority. In its previous "poll," SVLG claimed that both the light rail extensions and Caltrain electrification are rated the lowest.

SVLG's earlier poll, which the initial tax proposal was based on, received criticisms from the San Jose City Hall in which the councilmembers believed that their city deserves all the countywide transportation tax revenue. Unsurprisingly this "poll" reflects the City Hall's beliefs.

SVLG claimed that the respondents maintain their priorities when given with project costs and ridership figures. What SVLG probably did not reveal to the respondents is that the ridership projections, especially for the BART project, is over-estimated beyond proportions.

SVLG also took a stab at the County poll regarding its proposed 1/4 cent general sales tax for county services. The group is suggesting that the "likelihood of passage of a quarter-cent general purpose tax in a contested campaign is on the bubble." The County poll says that there's 60% voter support for either a 1/2 or a 1/4 cent general sales tax, which requires 50% voter approval.

What Guardino did not report is how much voter support is out there for a sales tax.

. . .

By singling out Caltrain electrification and suggesting it as the lowest-priority project, SVLG has clearly declared a war on transit advocates that include Sierra Club and BayRail Alliance, which strongly supported Caltrain electrification and related improvements.

Two months ago, Laura Stuchinsky, SVLG's transportation aide, wrote to a Sunnyvale neighborhood mailing list that Caltrain electrification doesn't have to be funded by VTA because the funding would be provided by the California High Speed Rail project. In the meantime, SVLG was also spearheading a "coalition" for supporting a southern alignment for HSR that would use the entire Caltrain alignment from San Jose to Gilroy.

SVLG's concept for electrification would work, just like the BART project, under a lot of assumptions. The issue currently at stake in Sacramento is whether HSR will happen at all. With all the debates between the San Jose folks and the Train Riders Association of California over the HSR alignments between the Central Valley and the Bay Area, HSR is not on most politicians' radar in the capital. The massive infrastructure (highway) bond proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not include any funding for the HSR project. Also, some Democratic legislators are also recommending to cancel the HSR bond vote scheduled this November and be replaced by a compromised version of the infrastructure bond which includes little of no funding for HSR.

If SVLG's coalition really supports HSR and Caltrain electrification, where are they in Sacramento to lobby for this? Why aren't the legislators who signed on to this "coalition" speak out in support of more funding to HSR? Or is SVLG just using the HSR as a smokescreen to take local tax funding away from Caltrain and spend it on the BART project?

Monday, January 23, 2006

VTA tax vote to be delayed?

On Friday, VTA board chair Cindy Chavez and general manager Michael Burns issued a memo recommending to delay the vote to place the 1/4 cent sales tax to March. Originally the tax vote was scheduled to be held in its February meeting. The staff cited insufficient time between the presentations to various groups and the originally scheduled vote in February 2nd to "to analyze and thoroughly consider all of the feedback and comments."

Although the new chairperson Cindy Chavez brings to the VTA board a less hostile leadership style than Ron Gonzales, there's isn't much room left to make a bad sales tax plan a good one.

The County Board of Supervisors, scheduled to meet Tuesday, January 24, will discuss and vote whether to support the VTA sales tax proposal. A staff memo was prepared showing that the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy has over-estimated the sales tax revenue growth for the 1996 Measure A/B 1/2 sales tax program, which is scheduled to expire this April. This is the same firm that VTA cited for predicting a higher revenue projection for its sales taxes in an attempt to deceive the voters.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Becoming an early lame duck

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, scheduled to become a lame duck in November following the next mayoral election due to the term limit, has removed himself from key committees, including the VTA board. He was censured by the City Council last month for his actions in regards to the garbage collection contract with Norcal Waste Systems.

Before the revelation of the garbage scandal and the subsequent censure, Gonzales was considered on track for a state office. With his reputation tarnished, his resignation from the VTA board could be a move to try to save the BART project by dis-associating his pet project from himself. Since 1999, he has pushed the BART project through years of political bullying, including the endorsement of over-projected ridership and tax revenue.

A transit project shouldn't be controversial, but BART itself has been controversial due to its extreme high cost in contrast to the area density, abnormal incompatibility to other rail systems, and a paper trail of cost-overruns and failure of meeting ridership projections. Is BART one of no-so-smart political decisions that Gonzales made just like the garbage scandal? Does he cares about our tax dollars just like the garbage scandal? Does removing himself from the VTA board make the BART extension, which requires another sales tax increase, no longer his pet project?

Becoming a lame duck or not, we shouldn't live with the legacy of having an over-priced and under-performed rail line that will be a drain on our tax dollars for decades to come.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Same old 2000 Measure A trick (VTA document)

This is the link to the VTA general manager's memo to the board of directors regarding the increase in sales tax projection. This online copy can be found at the Board of Supervisors' web site. The Board of Supervisors will be discussing the tax proposal on January 10 at 10:00am.

One of the troubling issues in the new projection is that VTA only anticipates increased revenue until 2015. These are supposedly the critical years of BART construction. If the actual revenue misses the projection anytime during those years, the projection will be way off and VTA will not be able to keep its promises. It seems apparent that VTA is making its revenue projections up to make the BART extension work, at the expense of other transit projects.