Thursday, October 30, 2008

VTA couldn't get BART to say that Measure B would be enough

Besides from the biggest lie that VTA has enough local funding to build the BART project (how do you know when VTA is not releasing updated costs?), the other big lie is that Measure B would provide enough funding to subsidize the operation. According to the Palo Alto Daily Post, new Public Records Act documents obtained by the No on B campaign from BART show that VTA and BART still couldn't agree whether Measure B would be enough after it was placed on the ballot:

"If asked if $42m is enough, I don't believe we are in a position to say yes," wrote BART General Mananger Dorothy Dugger in an Aug. 20 e-mail to VTA head Michael Burns. "Until we have an operating plan we really don't know what the costs are." Burns was asking Dugger for help responding to a statement in the Mercury News that VTA's annual obligation to BART was $48 million, not the $42 million the sales tax hike is estimated to generate.

VTA and BART had differences on operating plans. VTA wanted BART to operate shorter trains to save capital and operating costs. BART did not agree with VTA's plan for shorter trains because BART determines the train length according to the ridership demand between San Francisco and the East Bay. Running shorter trains to accommodate low ridership on the proposed line would cause overcrowding further north.

Michael Burns wanted BART to confirm VTA's flawed estimate, which claims Measure B would be more than enough to subsidize BART operations. Although BART was reluctant to endorse VTA's estimate, BART realized that it is in their interest to see Measure B passed anyhow even if it may mean further cuts into VTA's operation. In response, BART issued a letter stated that VTA's estimate was consistent with the 2001 comprehensive agreement, even though it never tried to answer the critical question of whether Measure B would be enough.

"It means that the VTA board placed a tax measure on the ballot without even knowing what the costs of the project are going to be," said No on B spokeswoman Margaret Okuzumi. "VTA is attempting to obscure this, to hide this, to get some kind of political cover from BART."

It is hard to get fair news coverage these days on this issue. Due to media consolidation and bias, the San Jose Mercury News and its associate local newspapers virtually blacked out most news and comments critical of Measure B. Two weeks ago, with three TV stations covering the press conference held by the No on B campaign, San Jose Mercury News provided zero coverage, even though "reporter" Gary Richards showed up and observed the press conference.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

VTA schedules VTP 2035 meetings after the election

Without providing advance notice to its advisory committees, VTA announced it will hold meetings on VTP 2035 right after the election.

VTP 2035 is a transportation wish list (includes highway and transit projects) that VTA has to submit to the MTC every few years in order to receive state and federal funding. VTP will determine the transportation priority.

On the November ballot, Measure C was supposed to ask voters to approve VTP 2035. However, because VTA delayed releasing the plan until the after the election, the Measure C ballot language asks voters to approve a plan "to be adopted" by the VTA board in December.

There's no reason for VTA to ask voters to pre-approve a plan that voters can't see. Without a balanced capital plan for the last two years, there's no reason to assume that VTA wouldn't propose cuts to projects like Caltrain electrification after the election. We already know that Measure B would not be enough to build and subsidize the BART line.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Retiring County Executive Pete Kutras finds VTA/SVLG relationship troubling

In an interview by Scott Herhold on County Executive Pete Kutras' upcoming retirement:

Q. I want to talk a little about VTA and BART, which is not directly your portfolio, but certainly affects the county. When this first came up in 2000, Mayor Gonzales did an end-run around the supervisors and went straight to the VTA to put it on the ballot. And there was a replay this time when they went to the VTA for a one-eighth cent tax. Does the competition with the hospital parcel tax bother you?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell me why.

A. Because I think medical care is the number one issue in this county, in this state, in this country. And to say a capital project such as BART should be the priority troubles me. I see the priority as physical health, mental health, and frankly, education over BART. That’s my personal view.

Q. If I could follow that up, I’d like to ask a question about VTA’s governance. A recent public records request from former Monte Sereno Council Member Mark Brodsky suggested that the VTA and the Leadership Group work very much hand-in-hand. Carl Guardino asks Mike Burns to lobby people. Burns provides help for their lawsuit. They exchange information on speeches. This is quite extensive. Should a public agency and a private lobby be that close?

A. No, they should not. We’ve all in this valley looked at that relationship. I’ve seen the VTA board make decisions on private polling that’s been done by the Leadership Group. We have tried over the years to see the polling. The leadership group is very selective. They will show you some questions, some information. Because they paid for it and it’s a private poll, you don’t see it. But there’s always a sense of uneasiness. Is the VTA board making decisions in public based on what is on the public record? That’s what’s troubling. I don’t want to join in any accusation, but I’m troubled by it.

On the November ballot, although Measure A Valley Medical Center bond receives virtually no opposition (not even an opposition argument was submitted!), it is nonetheless competing with Measure B for votes.

Two years ago, it was SVLG, using private polls, that successfully lobbied the county to place a 1/2 cent general sales tax increase on the ballot. Voters saw through the backroom deal to transfer the money to VTA and rejected the measure.

When the needs are clearly identified, like the earthquake retrofit of the only general hospital in the county, political factions will come together. On the other hand, Measure B demonstrates just the opposite. Considering the fact that VTA is still withholding new cost estimates on the BART project, Measure B should never be placed on the ballot in the first place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BRT Survey

VTA is conducting an online survey about the proposed Bus Rapid Transit. The survey doesn't ask where BRT ought to be aligned (because it is part of same politically motivated process that produced flaw alignments for light rail and BART) or what features it should have, instead the survey asks you to choose between the logo designs and vehicle colors.

While there's nothing wrong with trying to build a brand name and an identity, this effort lacks sincerity. There's no assurance whether the final BRT product would have everything riders expect. For instance, after 3 years, the 522 bus still does not have a predictive arrival system.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Does VTA deserve an award for COA?

Tomorrow, MTC will present an award to VTA for the COA service plan that got implemented in January. Does VTA really deserve an award?

It is important to note that the COA was a reallocation of resources, not to restore the service got cut a few years prior. At every COA related meetings, VTA staff always reminded the audience that any service improvement added to one line would require service reduction on another line. While the ridership growth may look above average, many transit dependent riders either left stranded by the plan or left with a much longer trip requiring multiple transfers (which actually helped boost VTA's ridership count since a trip with a transfer is considered two boardings).

VTA may want to take all the credit, but it was the everyday riders who demanded changes to the original proposal. For instance, under the original plan, West Valley and Foothill college would lose all the bus service except one line for each campus. VTA also proposed to eliminate express bus service like line 104 from Milpitas to Palo Alto and line 122 from South San Jose to Sunnyvale. The staff originally recommended these riders to take the light rail, which would take at least twice if not three times as long.

Nonetheless, some of the useful service got cut anyway. Line 85, for instance, connected Valley Medical Center with downtown San Jose. Line 22 also used to serve Menlo Park.

VTA should only get an award when its bus service is no longer at risk due to its misguided priorities.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Piecing the puzzle on the true cost

With all the exaggerated claims made by Measure B proponents, they have so far provided nothing to back up their promises.

What the documents obtained through the Public Record Act show is that VTA refused to provide updated cost estimates:

Email from Bena Chang (Yes on B/SVLG operative) to VTA on Friday, 8/22 at 4:58pm :


Reply from Brandi Childress (VTA PR staff) to Chang on Monday, 8/25 at 3:01pm:

"On your second request, staff is actually working on a 2008 Draft 65% Engineering cost...actual costs in 2008 dollars based on the design thus far. Is COB today the drop deadline... in other words, is early tomorrow out of the question? Please advise, thanks!"

Another reply from Jennie Loft (VTA PR staff) to Chang on Monday, 8/25 at 3:37pm:

"We are Working on 2008, 65% engineering costs. It will need to go through review process. What we have now available is 2005, trending engineering costs, which you can have now. Please advise and we can provide. Thanks!"

Later at night, Leyla Hedayat, a VTA planner, sent a message to the VTA PR staff about Chang's questions (8/25 at 11:18pm):

"I received an email this evening to talk to Michael, I will try him first thing tomorrow - I suspect it has do with the cost estimate. We have the trended PE in 2005$ but will not have the 65% cost estimate for tomorrow. They are not finalized and VTA mgmt. has not reviewed these costs. I will give an update at our meeting tomorrow."

Reply from Childress to Phil Yost, another SVLG operative, on Tuesday, 8/26 at 4:19pm:

"..The VTA Exec Team is working on numbers based on 65% design engineering costs but we need to really vet them with Mr. Burns which won't be ready by tomorrow. We also want to make sure we are accurate and ready to run with figures that have not even been released through our Federal environmental or new starts processes yet. Our take is that we would rather be safe than sorry..."

Reply from Childress to Chang on Tuesday, 8/26 at 4:45pm:

"..The cost is $4.7 billion in 2005 dollars. The extension will cost approximately $6 billion in year of expenditure dollars (construction year dollars), projected by year 2017. This figure considers inflation of the dollar and does not mean the cost has increased from $4.7 billion..."

Another message from Hedayat to the VTA PR staff about Chang's questions (8/26 at 10:35pm):

"...Can you make sure that Bena knows that $4.7 Billion is the Preliminary Engineering (35%) estimate. This is important later when the a 65% estimate is released. We should be careful about emphasizing "This figure considers inflation of the dollar and does not mean the cost has increased from $4.7 billion." It is okay to say inflation of the dollar but lets not focus on this does not mean the cost has increased."

Essentially Hedayat admitted that the actual cost (yet to be released) would be much higher than the cost told by the PR staff.

Nearly two months after the email exchanges between SVLG and VTA over the cost of the project, VTA is still officially withholding the updated cost estimates. Soon after the press conference held by the No on B campaign, Michael Burns told KCBS what the No on B campaign has long suspected:

"Burns said the new estimate due early in 2009 would likely be in the $6 billion range, a figure consistent with Okuzumi's projection based on a 30 percent increase in construction costs."

Burns told the media that it would be irresponsible for him to provide new numbers before the work is finished (scheduled to be completed after the election). However, it is actually more irresponsible for him to withhold that information until after the election. Since 2000, VTA has not shown once that it could afford to build the BART project without gutting the rest of the transit system and/or more tax increases. Measure B is just another attempt to mislead voters into believing that VTA could build the BART project cheap.

Besides the outdated figures, VTA also refused to include bonding cost. Numerous studies have indicated that VTA will require billions more in bonding cost to maintain cash flow if it wants to build the entire project in 10 years. VTA could scrap every project it promised earlier, but VTA could not refuse to pay the bonding cost.

Using outdated numbers and omitting bonding cost, Measure B simply would not be enough for VTA to deliver the BART project. However, it would allow VTA to hold back on other transit improvements, if not cutting more of the transit services that we have.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Santa Teresa station and more

Santa Teresa and Cottle are the only stations under construction. While Cottle is closed during construction, Santa Teresa remains open with a temporary platform.

Construction at the Santa Teresa platform.

This is the temporary platform in the tailtrack area. Notice the wheelchair ramps and the hatchmarked area at the edge of the platform.

Light rail cars occupy that hatchmarked area. For some reasons, the temporary platform isn't level with the train.

A folding tent is serving as a shelter.

There's no direct exit from the platform to Santa Teresa Avenue.

Measure B is finally shown on VTA's site

After an earlier complaint from this blog, VTA finally included information on Measure B on VTA's site.

Friday, October 17, 2008

VTA's PR spin

A day after being slammed with bad news, the VTA's PR department (also happened to be a taxpayer-funded propaganda department of SVLG) suddenly announced "record" ridership increases.

Well, VTA's ridership never broke any records. Systemwide, it is still more than 10% lower than the record ridership in 2001. Ridership on VTA buses was more than 18% lower than in 2001. Ridership increases on light rail helped compensate the loss of bus ridership. However, as we all know, VTA operates a larger light rail system (that replaced some bus lines) today than in 7 years ago.

Caltrain's ridership indeed broke record. Its most recent count showed the ridership exceeded the last record made in 2001.

Typically ridership numbers are not released this early, but VTA did so in an attempt to repair its image. If VTA is really interested to repair its image, VTA should be releasing new cost estimates for the BART project now, not after the election.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

VTA staff illegally collaborated with the Yes on B campaign

Earlier today, the No on B, C, and D campaign held a press conference at the VTA headquarter and released copies of written communications between VTA and SVLG staff, which the campaign has obtained from VTA through Public Records Act. These documents show that VTA has been withholding updated cost estimates for the BART project and that VTA employees have illegally collaborated with the Yes on B campaign.

The entire documents are available here.

From the press release...

"An August 25, 2008 email from VTA staff member Brandi Childress to SVLG/Yes on B staffer Bena Chang, stated, 'On your second request, staff is actually working on a 2008 Draft 65% Engineering cost…actual costs in 2008 dollars based on the design thus far.' The following day, she sent an email stating, 'The VTA Exec Team is working on numbers based on 65% design engineering costs but we need to really vet them with [VTA General Manager] Mr. Burns which won’t be ready by tomorrow.' The fact that the project cost has still not been released nearly two months later, and it is less than 3 weeks before the election, can only mean one thing: the project doesn’t work financially with a 1/8-cent sales tax."

In the documents provided also include clear evidence of VTA staff illegally collaborated with the Yes on B campaign. Messages were sent to VTA from SVLG staffers requesting customized maps and talking points to be used on campaign collaterals. VTA staff not only complied with the campaign's request but also actively sought their assistance to ensure consistent messages between Michael Burns and the campaign.

Even though state laws prohibit public funds to be spent on campaign advocacy, maps produced by VTA using public funds has appeared on many of the Yes on B campaign collaterals.

In a memo to the VTA board, VTA's general counsel has denied any illegal activity between VTA staff and the Yes on B campaign. The counsel claimed that the communications were legal because VTA staff only provided factual information. However, the documents indicate that a SVLG employee has told VTA that information from the agency would be used on campaign materials (page 391):

"Editing your original drawings are exactly why I would like a vector copy of your map. Naturally, this would be undertaken with an eye to preserving your good work. Moreover, since we use graphical material relating to BART/VTA in so many of our documents & presentations, it makes sense for me to have a copy (working in tandem with Oxo [a VTA employee]).

Projects of note that will require maps / VTA materials:
- Speaking engagements concerning the Bart To San Jose Campaign
-Collateral produced by the Bart to San Jose Campaign
-Outdoor / Indoor Advertising Relating to the Bart to San Jose Campaign
-SVLG's 'Projections' Report, touting the Bart to San Jose Campaign"

Instead of spending its limited tax dollars on improving transit, VTA used its resources to promote its new tax. From the press release...

"'I’m personally appalled that VTA staff would conduct themselves in a way that not only brings dishonor and discredit to the VTA, but also contradicts the ethics training that VTA staff received at Santa Clara University at the beginning of this year,' David Casas, VTA board member. 'Their actions call into the question the validity of the Yes on B campaign in its entirety.'"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Where's Measure B

As we all know, VTA placed 3 measures on the November ballot: B, C, and D. VTA recently put up an information page about its ballot measures on its web site, but Measure B was clearly missing.

VTA is trying all it can to distance itself with the sales tax, even though VTA is the actual agency that will collect the money and build the project. Why is VTA trying to hide itself?

VTA transferred 49ers bus to a private company

Probably due to mounting operating losses by charging regular express bus fares, VTA turned over the 49ers express bus service to Silverado Stages last Sunday. Silverado is also the operator of the 49ers service in San Mateo County formerly provided by SamTrans. A recent federal regulation has prohibited transit operators from providing special event service at premium fares.

The round trip fare on Silverado is $25, $4 more than what VTA charged last season. However, Silverado operates intercity coaches which are more comfortable and provide onboard restrooms, unlike the standard city buses VTA runs.

A line of VTA buses parked at a 49ers home game last month. On the left is a Silverado Coach.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The same false promises with Measure B

One thing that's true in Santa Clara County is that it is almost impossible to have a sincere, rational discussion about transportation. The delusionals are so obsessed about the BART brand that they're forgetting the fact that it is just a very expensive, non-standard train.

Measure B is all about them being delusional. 8 years ago, Carl Guardino at least tried the featherbed the 2000 Measure A with other projects to make it looked more equitable and fair. This time, with all the VTA failures, all they could sell is a BART brand and a BART delusion without mentioning "VTA" and "new tax." (try to search both phases in the article and you'll see.)

With little credibility left, the delusionals are trying to associate the BART project with all the poll-tested, feel-good buzz words of the day.

Reduce dependence on foreign oil? Reduce greenhouse gas emissions? As Scott Herhold wrote earlier, whatever fuel saving benefits are minimal: "By my back-of-the envelope figuring, the proponents' current estimate of 12,000 gallons of gas saved a day is only three-tenths of 1 percent of total Bay Area usage."

By the way, Caltrain already uses more diesel fuel than that everyday. VTA can do more to reduce oil dependence and emissions by spending just a fraction of the cost to electrify Caltrain. Instead, VTA/SVLG continue to delay the project and trying to mislead others by blaming San Francisco.

A full rail car removes 200 cars from the road? The reality is that neither a BART nor a Caltrain car has that much seating capacity. In fact, even with VTA's inflated ridership numbers, one out of three seats would be empty during the morning rush hours between Fremont and Milpitas. Also, more than half of the projected ridership would be diverted from existing buses and trains.

Of course we must not forget that the BART extension to Millbrae has failed to meet ridership projections and nearly bankrupted SamTrans.

One would wonder why these delusionals are hitting us again for another tax. 8 years ago, voters believed Guardino when he declared that the 2000 tax would be more than enough. After all these years, Measure B supporters could have chip in more of their own money if they really believed BART as a worthy form of investment. Instead, what they did was to shift more of the tax burden onto the residents in this county.

In 2003, Carl Guardino flat out rejected a proposal calling for a VTA payroll tax. If the employers wanted BART because it would somehow help them import more cheap labor from the East Bay, shouldn't they pay their fair share? After all, even a VTA-sponsored "economic study" of the BART project has indicated that workers from out-of-county would only spend about 5.7% of their income in Santa Clara County, mostly on their lunches.

Also, since 2005, SVLG has lobbied for legislation to exempt companies from paying sales taxes.

These days, there are too many false promises everywhere. It is time to have a sincere, rational discussion. Only a NO vote will help us get there.

Monday, October 06, 2008

VTA minor bus service change

Today, VTA implemented a minor bus service change.

22, 23, 68 - Friday and Saturday night detour on San Fernando Street in downtown San Jose will be discontinued. Buses will stay on Santa Clara Street at all times.

23 - Terminal on the west end has been relocated to a driveway inside the De Anza campus.

An additional round trip has been added to lines 34, 120, 121, 168, and 330.

Schedule changes for routes: 22, 23, 32, 35, 40, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58, 65, 88, and 89.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Palo Alto considers opposing Measure B

The City of Palo Alto is considering a resolution opposing Measure B tomorrow. It is the only city in the county to do so.

It is the right time to consider such resolution. For too long, Palo Alto and other cities have been giving away their tax revenue with little in return. 8 years ago, Palo Alto supported the 2000 Measure A because of funding for Caltrain electrification, Palo Alto transit center, Dumbarton Rail, and increased bus service. Today, not only Palo Alto would not receive any benefit from Measure B, it threatens all the previous promises VTA made to Palo Alto.

VTA General Manager Michael Burns once again tries to deceive the voters by justifying the $91 million funding shift from Dumbarton Rail and VTA's attempts to delay Caltrain electrification. What we know is that VTA has not provided an expenditure plan, which would tell what projects would be funded or not. What we also know is that VTA is withholding a revised cost estimate for BART until after the election, which would tell how much funding, if any, would be available for other projects. Can Michael Burns be trusted? Of course not.

SVLG and VTA will continue the path of deception. Only a NO vote on Measure B will send a clear message that it is not acceptable.

If you live or work in Palo Alto, please consider sending an email message or attend the City Council meeting to express your support for the resolution opposing Measure B.

From BayRail Alliance:

Monday, October 6, 2008 6:30 PM (agenda item #28, so it will probably be heard no earlier than 8 PM)

Palo Alto City Hall
250 Hamilton Avenue
Palo Alto CA 94301

If you can't make it to city hall at that time, or even if you plan to, please send an e-mail to the city councilmembers and staff expressing your opposition to Measure B.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Blanca Alvarado speaks out

Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado is one of the few public officials that have steadfastly opposed to SVLG/VTA's effort to deceive taxpayers. For the last 8 years, she believed that transportation planning shouldn't be limited to people like Carl Guardino making backroom decisions.

In 2000, when Guardino and Ron Gonzales announced a plan to put a sales tax on the November ballot for the BART project, they first approached the Board of Supervisors for a 20-year general sales tax which required a 50% voter threshold.

Throughout that time, Alvarado withstood pressure from SVLG and instead support a community-based process to draft a plan for the 2002 election. After the Board of Supervisors failed to put the tax on the ballot, Guardino and Gonzales quickly turned to VTA to place an all-transit tax on the November ballot.

Although Alvarado was the chair of VTA, Guardino and Gonzales convinced other VTA board members to support the tax. At a special board meeting when the rest of the board voted to put Measure A on the ballot, she casted the only dissenting vote.

Six years later, when Guardino arranged backroom deals to put a half cent general sales tax on the ballot. Alvarado also casted the only dissenting vote. She wanted to support a 1/4 cent general tax increase for county services that would not include funding for VTA.

Two years later, Guardino is at it again asking for a tax increase to fund the same ill-conceived project that put riders at risk.

Alvarado has been right all along. If the county had waited a year or two to present a transportation plan, the county would've known that BART was unaffordable all along, that VTA riders wouldn't have suffered as much from service reductions and fare increases, and that voters wouldn't have faced the same tax on the ballot election after election.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What have we got after 8 years?

After 8 years, driving alone is still the dominant transportation mode in the Valley. In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County ranks the highest on percentage of commuters who drive alone, and among the lowest on the percentage of commuters using transit.

Today, Carl Guardino continues to claim that he's a transit advocate, and that he knows the "missing puzzle piece" that would somehow magically make transit work in the Valley.

A look back in history shows that Guardino and VTA have actively make transit less viable in the county:

In 2000, Carl Guardino and Ron Gonzales conceived a new sales tax to build the BART project. Riding on a bubble economy, they insisted that the sales tax couldn't be delayed and that Measure A would provide "traffic relief now," even though it was clear that BART was at least 10 years away. In the process to rush the tax on the ballot, many stakeholders were left out of the planning process. However, some were appeased when VTA and SVLG included some funding for their pet projects in Measure A, such as a study of a BART extension from Santa Clara to Palo Alto. Even so, VTA General Manager Pete Cipolla warned the board that Measure A wouldn't provide enough money to operate all Measure A projects through the life of the tax.

Later in October, in the middle of the 2000 Measure A campaign, VTA suddenly came out with a new sales tax revenue projection that claimed it has all the money needed to operate all the Measure A expansions.

In the meantime, VTA successfully sabotaged a fully funded Caltrain connection between San Jose and BART in Union City. VTA claimed it dropped the project because of opposition from Fremont, but the reality is that VTA could not afford to have a viable rail alternative in place while pursuing this overpriced "missing puzzle piece."

After the passage of Measure A, VTA began to reduce bus and light rail service. Initially VTA claimed shortage of drivers and light rail construction as reasons for cut backs, but those excuses gave way to actual tax revenue downturn as the bubble economy bursted.

Worried about the revenue downturn would impact that "missing puzzle piece," SVLG led a "business review team" that recommended huge fare increases and service cuts to seniors and the disabled in 2002:

"Under the current proposals, seniors and disabled riders will see the largest fare increases across-the-board - with costs for rides and passes doubling in some cases - as well as some reduced service.

"But those changes would come off the top of historically 'deep, deep' discounts and enhanced levels of paratransit service that are above Americans With Disabilities Act mandates, said VTA spokeswoman Lupe Solis."

These recommendations caused riders to leave VTA and did not significantly improve VTA's farebox recovery rates.

As the tax revenue declined further in 2003, VTA threatened a 21% transit cut. After months of protests by transit riders and workers, VTA reluctantly accepted a proposal to bond against the 2000 Measure A tax revenue to fill the revenue shortfall. If that 21% transit cut were implemented, line 180 would only operate between Fremont and light rail in north San Jose. Riders heading to and from downtown San Jose would have to transfer to light rail. VTA would like everyone to believe it was all because of the economy,but it was really more than that:

"By November 2002, the economic nosedive combined with skyrocketing costs for the BART extension had combined to create a $6 billion operating shortfall during VTA’s 25 year planning horizon.

"On November 8, 2002, a majority of VTA board members directed staff to develop a few balanced, or “live within your means,” budgets. VTA staff responded the next month with three scenarios for balancing the agency’s budget. The first scenario was still not balanced, with expenses exceeding revenues so greatly as to ultimately lead the agency to bankruptcy. The third scenario was simply infeasible. The only long-term balanced scenario required cutting 70% of VTA’s bus services and abandoning all planned expansions except two: BART to San Jose and East Valley Light Rail."

Responding to the funding shortfall, VTA convened an ad-hoc Financial Stability Committee to explore additional options to address the problem. One of the committee findings is that VTA was too reliant on sales tax revenue, which was considered to be too volatile. Some committee members suggested a new 1% payroll tax like the one in San Francisco. Because a payroll tax would hit squarely on the employers, Carl Guardino quickly rejected it:

"Carl Guardino said a 1 percent payroll tax would average roughly $1,000 per employee annually - a heavy burden on struggling companies."

As always, he prefers sales taxes, which are regressive and hit people who don't earn an income. SVLG has also advocated bills to exempt high tech companies (its member companies) from paying sales taxes on certain taxable purchases.

Meanwhile in 2003, because of the widening of 101 between San Jose and Morgan Hill (lobbied by SVLG in 1996 as a part of the 1996 sales tax plan) along with a fare increase recommended by VTA, Caltrain ridership south of San Jose dropped dramatically. The ridership continued to decline years after the freeway widening, even as the rest of the Caltrain system experienced ridership increases because of the Baby Bullet.

Three years later in 2006, because SVLG worried that a county general sales tax increase would render another VTA sales tax unwinnable, SVLG made backroom deals resulted in the 2006 Measure A. Even though that sales tax could not legally specify any projects, VTA pursued a parallel process in drafting an expediture plan that would use half of the county's new tax revenue. Fortunately voters saw through the backroom deals and rejected it.

Undeterred, soon after the defeat of the 2006 tax, VTA approved an unbalaced and unworkable expenditure plan and kept continue to waste funds on that "missing puzzle piece." It was clear that VTA would pursue another tax in the next two years. Last year, VTA and SVLG lobbied Sacramento to pass a law permitting VTA to put 1/8 cent sales tax increases on the ballot, which resulted in Measure B.

To this day, VTA is still unwilling to produce a balanced spending plan to finance that so-called "missing puzzle piece." Nonetheless, as much as they try to ignore it, we already know a lot about Measure B: Is Measure B the only tax needed to build BART? Absolutely not! Is Measure B be enough for BART's ongoing costs? Absolutely not! Will Measure B threaten other VTA priorities like Downtown East Valley and Caltrain? Absolutely!

To make transit work in this Valley, what we need is not the "missing puzzle piece." What we need is a changed VTA with new priorities. Instead of focusing on contractors, consultants, and downtown delusionals looking for financial benefits, VTA should focus on riders first, who have already suffered from years of service cuts and fare increases. Over the years, Carl Guardino has been nothing but a negative influence on VTA by lobbying for policies that were against riders' interest. VTA, including the General Manager Michael Burns, has also failed to serve riders' interest by continuing to justify and support flawed policies.

Measure B is a summation and a continuation of the past failed policies of the last 8 years. No wonder why Santa Clara County has made little if any progress in getting more people out of their cars all this time. Only a rejection of Measure B, C, and D will send a clear message to the VTA. Like the rest of the Bay Area, transit priorities ought to be planned openly by the entire community, not by Carl Guardino with his secret polls. We cannot continue to allow SVLG to be the political wing of VTA.