Oppose SB 264
- Published Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in the Gilroy Dispatch
Sen. Elaine Alquist's Lousy Legislation Tailored for the VTA
By Lisa Pampuch
Many thanks to fellow columnist Dina Campeau for alerting me to a bill
making its way through the California Statehouse: SB 264, sponsored by
State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose).
(An aside: Illustrating the joys of gerrymandering under which we
lucky Californians live - thanks to the failure of voters and leaders
to enact redistricting reform - Alquist's 13th district includes,
according to her Web site, "San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain
View and Gilroy." Notice how her district skips right over Morgan
Hill and San Martin?)
If enacted, SB 264, entitled "Transactions and use taxes: Santa Clara
Valley Transportation Authority," would permit VTA - no other agency,
mind you - to place sales tax measures of 1/8th-cent increments on the
ballot. Currently, the smallest sales tax increase increment that
cities, counties and agencies can place before voters is 1/4 cent.
I dislike this bill for a number of reasons.
First, I dislike bills that are written for one agency or one
person. Why should VTA be permitted to place smaller-increment sales
tax measures than any other city, county or agency in California?
It reminds of me of the bad bill passed by the U.S. Congress in March
2005 that applied to exactly one person: Terri Schiavo. Whether they
sided with Schiavo's husband or her parents, polls show that most
American understood that Congress had no business interfering. The
bill perverted the separation of powers carefully crafted by the
Just as the Schiavo bill was bad legislation, so too is SB 264. If
1/8th-cent increments are appropriate for VTA, they ought to be
appropriate for every city, county and agency in California.
That's enough reason to oppose SB 264, but I have more.
VTA has been repeatedly and emphatically told to get its fiscal house
in order. The Santa Clara County civil grand jury studied VTA in 2005
and issued a scathing report on its deficiencies.
The grand jury chided VTA because it "has not reacted to the present
budget problems with diligence."
Two years later, the Hay Group's audit released earlier this year
echoed those concerns. Staff writer Tony Burchyn's reported that the
Hay Group found that "VTA's financial capacity and future are
uncertain and unstable."
Those financial woes are compounded by the agency's stubborn
insistence on pursuing expanding BART from Fremont to San Jose.
Never mind that VTA cannot afford to build or operate the $5-billion,
Never mind that the grand jury advised VTA to abandon the project,
saying, "Spending limited resources on BART could squander an
opportunity to build, maintain and operate a far larger network of
transit options throughout the county," and rebuking VTA for its
failure to consider cheaper options.
Never mind that the BART extension project is so unwise that federal
transportation officials have refused to recommend any further federal
funding for it. And this was during the tenure of former San Jose
Mayor Norm Mineta as Secretary of Transportation.
Never mind that the BART extension from San Francisco to SFO exceeded
construction estimates, failed to meet rosy ridership estimates and
has been a financial and litigious drain on BART and SamTrans.
But VTA's problems aren't just fiscal, they're also political.
All VTA directors are appointed by member cities. One VTA board seat
rotates between the Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Milpitas. Of course,
South County's interests and Milpitas' interests are often quite
different. It's a ridiculous scheme with no accountability, and the
BART-to-San Jose extension fiasco highlights that.
The grand jury criticized VTA's board structure for being "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 reprimanded VTA directors because they rarely have "frank
and open discussions on important matters of policy."
The grand jury recommended a smaller board of directly elected
The Hay Group's audit also addressed this issue, as Burchyns reported,
concluding that "VTA governance does not operate as designed."
Fixing VTA's board structure requires state legislation - now that's a
bill Alquist ought to be sponsoring.
VTA needs a smaller, directly elected board of directors that
equitably represents all parts of the region it serves. That's a bill
I could support.
But as for SB 264, I'm writing my representatives and urging them to
vote no. I hope you will too. Visit smartvoter.org/gtg to find your
representatives' contact information.
Lisa Pampuch is a technical editor and a member of the newspaper's
editorial board. She lives in Morgan Hill with her husband and two
children. Reach her at lisapampuch@...
[BATN: See also the VTA Riders Union's position