SCCo. Grand Jury report: halt SJ BART extension
- Published Tuesday, June 22, 2004, in the Morgan Hill Times
Report: Halt BART extension
By Lori Stuenkel
Following a nearly year-long investigation, the Santa Clara County
Civil Grand Jury is recommending delaying BART-to-San Jose and
restructuring the Valley Transportation Authority's board of
directors because its members are too distracted to provide
In an in-depth, 13-page report released Friday, the grand jury said
the VTA board did not efficiently provide management oversight
and "has not reacted to the present budget problems with diligence,"
depleting financial reserves.
[BATN: The 210kb PDF-format report is available at
Also, the $4.2 billion BART extension to San Jose -- for which the
VTA won't have funds for another 20 years -- should be suspended in
favor of funding other transit projects, the grand jury said.
Don Gage, District 1 county supervisor and VTA board chair, said
Monday that the issues laid out by the grand jury are what the board
has been dealing with for more than a year, but that the transit
board won't make any decisions on its recommendations until December
or early next year.
"The grand jury report was pretty accurate, but it didn't factor in
the data the full board needs to make the decision," Gage said. "We
have to wait until probably December, when we have all our financial
data gathered to make a determination on whether we can go forward
with our 2030 plan. ... There's a lot of pieces to the puzzle here."
One of those is a new half-cent sales tax that would go to
maintaining roads and operating the county's existing bus and rail
network. The VTA plans to ask voters to approve the tax in November
The 19-member grand jury report does not require that the board
follow its recommendations, but does warrant an official response.
"We owe them a reply and we'll give them a reply, but from my own
personal experience right now, I've got to have more facts before I
deal with them," Gage said.
The grand jury found that the VTA board, which oversees the VTA and
its $350 million operating budget, is "too large, too political, too
dependent on staff, too inexperienced in some cases, and too removed
from the financial and operational performance of VTA."
It criticized the 12 voting members, consisting of county supervisors
and city councilmembers, for not requesting in-depth explanations
from VTA staff and rarely engaging in "frank and open discussions on
important matters of policy."
Grand jury foreman Richard Woodward said the board members' lack of
focus was at the core of the issues examined throughout the course of
"That was sort of the crux, is that this is not their primary job,"
Woodward said. "And therefore it just follows that the amount of time
they've got to focus on this isn't as focused.
"That seemed to be obvious when you went to the meetings and could
see that often the members of the board really needed to spend a lot
of time getting educated on the issues."
To allay these concerns, the grand jury said the VTA board should
be smaller -- five to seven members -- and members should be either
directly elected or appointed.
"Everything you do in this process is political," Gage said. "If you
went to an elected board, people would vote for the people who would
think like them."
Nevertheless, a committee headed by VTA Board Vice Chair Joe
Pirzynski is looking into changing the board's membership. Doing so
would require a legislative change that probably could not happen
until early next year.
"For me, we're right in a critical path right now, and it's not the
wisest thing to do to change horses in the middle of the stream,"
The VTA board's distraction led to other problems cited in the grand
jury report, Woodward said. For one, the board allowed VTA finances
to deteriorate badly before taking action.
When reserves were depleted during the recent economic downturn, the
board borrowed $275 million plus interest against future Measure A
sales tax revenues to pay current costs. "That action prevented a
21 (percent) cut in transit services this year but has not solved
the current financial problem," the jury reported. "It merely pushed
it into the future... ."
The grand jury found that the VTA has refused to consider cheaper
BART plans, such as extending only to Milpitas or Berryessa and
connecting to light rail. BART, a $4.2 billion project, would largely
be funded by a half-cent sales tax. About one-third of the cost would
be covered by state and federal funding. At present, the VTA cannot
afford to build and operate BART to San Jose.
"Spending limited resources on BART could squander an opportunity to
build, maintain, and operate a far larger network of transit options
throughout the county as enabled by voters approving the half-cent
Measure A sales tax in 2000," the grand jury said.
In fact, moving forward with the San Jose BART extension may be to
the detriment of other the transportation network throughout the
region. If the board decides to alter its BART plans or Measure A-
funded projects in some way, it will be with voter approval, Gage
"We're probably going to have to go back to the voters, especially if
we say we're not going to do it because they're the ones who voted
for Measure A," Gage said," and ask them, `What do you want us to
Lori Stuenkel covers education for The Dispatch. She can be reached
at 408-847-7158 or lstuenkel@...
[BATN: See also:
VTA chair brushes off Grand Jury SJ BART criticisms
Sun King Ron Gon still dreams of BART to SJ
VTA determined to build BART regardless of cost or utility
SCCo. Grand Jury: Halt BART to SJ, reform VTA