Friday, February 24, 2006

Serving mystery sales tax in the county building

Remember the last time being served mystery meat? This time the county is serving something that tastes just like mystery meat: mystery sales tax. This mystery sales tax has a simple recipe:

Shall a sales tax of one-half of 1 percent be enacted for general county purposes such as:
The county hospital and clinics;
Trauma and emergency services;
Affordable homes for families and seniors;
Health insurance for uninsured children;
Prevention programs for at-risk youth, families and seniors;
Transportation improvements approved in city and countywide transportation plans;
Services for abused and neglected children;
with a Citizens Oversight Committee to ensure fiscal accountability by reviewing the Annual Audit?

From the list above, can you answer these questions:

  1. Is there any guideline or assurance that any program mentioned would get the necessary funding?
  2. Is there any assurance for the county that it won't use the sales tax revenue for other unstated purposes?
  3. Is there any measure to protect social and geographical equity of the tax?

Carl Guardino was reportedly threatened the supervisors with opposing the 1/4 cent sales tax unless the county supports a 1/2 cent tax, along with a gentleman's agreement that half of the tax goes to Guardino's pet project: BART. Guardino and the county are refusing to admit this hidden agreement in order to sell this specific tax, which requires 2/3 voter approval, as a general fund tax, which requires 1/2 voter approval.

VTA Watch has earlier reported about the possibility of the county supporting transportation projects. With Guardino's recent influence, the currently proposed ballot measure could result in a worst case scenario, where the more than half of the new sales tax would go to the BART project without further input from voters.

While the county supervisors today may not want to spend the entire 1/4 cent, or a penny at all on BART, there will be turnovers on the board in the future that may change its spending priorities. Also, VTA could ask the county to pay for bus service with the county's new tax and then spend all the VTA's bus funding on BART. Unfortunately this proposal, which would make the sales tax in Santa Clara County highest in the state, offers no guideline nor protection against wasteful spending.

Friday, February 17, 2006

VTA basic PR screwup

VTA once again failed to timely notify a major construction project that would affect thousands of passengers.

The downtown station platform retrofit has been planned for the last five years, even appeared with a wooden mock up, after the passage of the 2000 Measure A and VTA's subsequent purchase of additional low floor vehicles to replace the high floor fleet. Despite years of planning, the public was told in less than two weeks to prepare for the temporary closure of two downtown stations as long as 10 months. As of Friday night, VTA still hasn't post anything on its website regarding the station closures.

One of the two light rail stations to be closed serves the San Jose State University. Thousands of students take light rail to avoid high parking fees and the shortage of parking spaces on campus. Despite what some of students suggest in the Mercury article, many more students may decide not to take light rail and drive instead.

A related issue that the Mercury article did not discuss is whether this project is necessary. With a mini-high platform, VTA's light rail is currently in full compliance with American with Disabilities Act and offers level boarding for wheelchair passengers without operator assistance. The only quantifiable benefit is the saving in dwell time, however small it appears to be, of cutting one step for all other passengers. Does it worth 8 to 10 months of constructions and millions of dollars in costs, along with impacts to the downtown community and the students at San Jose State? It looks like another collateral damage from the 2000 Measure A.


Bonus: The other permanent damage caused by the downtown platform retrofit is that the transfers between light rail and buses would be made less convenient. Due to ADA and other reasons, the high platform would be extended almost to the street curb where the bus stops are now. Because these high platforms would not allow buses to make safe boarding and to use the wheelchair lift or ramp, the bus stops would have to be relocated away further from the light rail stop. Way to go to increase transit ridership at VTA!