Nearly $8 billion over the next three decades could flow to Alameda County roads, sidewalks, highways, buses and trains, if voters approve Measure B1 on November 6. The measure would double the existing half-cent sales tax for transportation to one cent. Measure B1 requires approval from two-thirds of voters to take effect.
Within Measure B1 are several ambitious projects that bear directly on Oakland. Projects to repair major thoroughfares, including High Street, Park Street, East 14th Street, and the Fruitvale Bridge, would receive some of the projected $1.5 billion for local streets over the next 30 years. Several Interstate 880 interchanges would see improvements to relieve congestion and increase safety.
Across the county, transit programs for seniors, students, and people with disabilities would receive a projected $789 million. Around $264 million is also set aside for bike trails, including a new East Bay Greenway stretching from East Oakland to Fremont.
Most significantly, AC Transit would receive roughly $1.8 billion over three decades. That figure includes a projected $1.45 billion for “operations, maintenance, and safety,” and nearly $350 million for the East Bay Paratransit program, which provides van transportation for people who are unable to use AC Transit and BART. $35 million would be directed towards four Bus Rapid Transit routes, each of which would pass through Oakland.
“These are very dire times for transportation funding,” said Clarence Johnson, spokesman for AC Transit. Johnson said that it would be “a little premature” to discuss exactly how money from Measure B1 would be spent. But he said he expects the funds would go to restoring service, maintenance, and bus rapid transit lines. Johnson said that Measure B1 would be a “tremendous boon” for the East Bay’s bus service.
Across Alameda County, about 48% of Measure B1 funds would be spent on transit, 39% would be spent on roads and highways, and 8% would go toward bicycle and pedestrian programs. Measure B1 funds would be managed by a 22-member commission, which includes a representative from each city in the county, and two from Oakland.
Measure B1’s dollar figures are all based on projections. The figures could wind up millions off the mark if economic or population growth falls short of expectations. Planners predict Alameda County’s current population will grow 24% by 2035, to about 1.9 million. The projected dollar amounts are all calculated as a percentage of Measure B1 revenue over the next 30 years, and will rise or fall with spending in Alameda County.
Jonathan Bair, President of the Board of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, says that if Measure B passes “we’ll see safer and better maintained streets, more bike lanes and more sidewalk repair, more repair of our unique urban pathways and stairways, and we’ll see much improved transit service.” Bair says he’s encouraged by a doubling of funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs, which he says would assist Oakland in implementing its Bicycle Master Plan.
Bair says that Measure B1 funds could help restore local roads, which benefit drivers, but also transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Opponents are calling Measure B expensive and wasteful. “When times are tight, you tighten your belt,” said Mimi Steel, President of the SF Bay Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. “Before anybody talks about spending any money, or putting any more taxes on hardworking people, they need to take a hard look at what resources they have right now.” Steel says she often sees empty buses near her Castro Valley home.
Chris Pareja, a former U.S. Congressional Candidate from Hayward, says Measure B “has the potential to make Alameda County less business-friendly and less competitive, especially for small retailers.” Pareja, who co-wrote the argument against Measure B1 on Alameda County sample ballots, says he’s concerned about a section in Measure B1 that allows the county to take out $1 billion in bonds without additional voter approval. “What we don’t want to do is put Alameda County in more debt, especially for infrastructure that may not be necessary,” Pareja said.
Unlike past transportation taxes in Alameda County, Measure B1 contains no sunset clause. So, if approved, it would not expire, unless voters passed another measure voiding it. Planners would put forward updates to voters every twenty years, starting in 2042. An independent watchdog committee would prepare a report on Measure B1 spending each year, if passed.
A provision in the measure specifies that neither the state nor other governments may appropriate Measure B1 funds, and that all proceeds must be applied to transportation projects benefitting Alameda County. Critics contend that these funds might nevertheless be used for projects that extend outside the county, though the projects set forth in the Measure are fully or largely inside Alameda County’s limits.
Measure B1’s advocates acknowledge that “a two-thirds vote is always a heavy lift,” as Bair says. There have been no polls on the measure, which sits alongside six other tax and bond measures on Oakland voters’ ballots. It has been endorsed by each of Alameda County’s fourteen cities, including Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, and Emeryville. Transit agencies, including AC Transit and BART, transit advocates, and unions have also thrown their support behind B1.
Alameda County’s current sales tax for transportation—one half cent per every dollar—was initially approved by voters in 1986, and reauthorized by over 80% of voters in 2000. It is not set to expire until 2022. If Measure B1 doesn’t garner two-thirds of votes in favor, then the half-cent sales tax will remain in place.