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The Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting was packed Tuesday morning, with many in attendance for an item on naming June 5 "Palestinian Cultural Day."

County Board of Supervisors approve placing $7.8 billion transportation plan on November ballot

on June 5, 2012

Alameda County voters will get to decide in November if the transportation sales tax should be doubled in order to fund nearly $8 billion in transportation improvements and a return of some transit services in the county.

On Tuesday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Alameda County Transportation Expenditure Plan, a measure to be placed on the ballot that would increase the sales tax from a half-cent to one cent if passed by voters. That money—$7.8 billion over 30 years—would be used to pay for a variety of transportation needs, including fixing roads and highways and improving access for bicycles and pedestrians. Nearly half the funding would be used to pay for paratransit and other senior transportation services, as well as more funding for maintenance and expansion for AC Transit and BART lines. The half-cent increase would remain “in perpetuity,” according to the plan.

The plan would also help add 25,000 new jobs for every $1 billion spent, said Supervisor Nate Miley (District 4) before the supervisors’ vote.

“Every single city in Alameda County has supported this plan, you have earlier supported this plan and now we’re at the point at placing this on the November ballot,” said Tess Lengyel, the deputy director of policy, public affairs and legislation with the Alameda County Transportation Commission, told the board of supervisors.

The transportation expenditure plan states that the plan is necessary because of a “dramatic” decrease in transportation funding from the state and federal government—local spending makes up 60 percent of the county’s current transportation funding—as a growing county population demands a more efficient transportation system. By the year 2035, Alameda County’s population is expected to increase 24 percent according to the plan.

The transportation expenditure plan would add on to Measure B, the original county transportation sales tax, which was approved in 1986. Voters reauthorized Measure B in 2000 for 22 years, with the plan supplying $100 million every year for “essential operations, maintenance and construction of transportation projects.” Measure B has funded everything from a BART expansion to Warm Springs in Fremont to bike trails and bridges to improvements on freeways 580 and 880.

The new plan includes $3.7 billion for “public and specialized transit” which would double the current tax funding for public transit. Another large chunk of the funding—$2.3 billion—would go to “local streets and roads” which covers road maintenance and improvements. “Highways and freight” would receive $677 million to “improve the efficiency of our existing highway system” by doing things like eliminating bottlenecks and expanding carpool lanes. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities would have their tax funding doubled to $651 million to make improvements around the county, and fund the completion of the Bay Trail, East Bay Greenway and Iron Horse Trail. Receiving the least amount of funding would be “sustainable land use and transportation linkages” ($300 million), which would be used to develop infrastructure that supports “transit, walking and biking” and “technology innovation and development” ($77 million) to “improve efficiencies and advance cleaner vehicles and energy.”

After the plan was developed over two years by the Alameda County Transportation Commission, the city councils of all 14 cities in Alameda County held public hearings and voted to implement the plan and recommend it to voters, according to the report.

But the plan is not unanimously supported by the public. On Tuesday, a letter signed by Katherine Gravzy, the chair of the Alameda Council of the League of Women Voters, was submitted to the board of supervisors detailing “serious concerns” about the proposed ballot measure. The league’s concerns include extending the 1-cent tax “in perpetuity,” the letter states, which does not meet the league’s “standard of accountability.”

“The record has shown that’s not a good idea,” said Miriam Hawley, speaking on behalf of the league’s Alameda County Council, which represents seven local chapters. “We really can’t anticipate what kind of funding mechanisms are going to be available in the future, or what kind of needs, or what are the priorities for our tax dollars in the future.”

The new plan also doesn’t include “quantifiable goals and objectives” the letter states. “What are the standards for this and how do I measure them?” Hawley asked the board of supervisors. “That’s what voters need to know.”

Lengyel was called upon by Miley to respond to the concerns raised by the League of Women Voters. Lengyel said the public will get to vote on the plan “every 20 years after the first 30-year period.” She also said “each goal has performance measures.”

“The performance and accountability measures will be incorporated into agreements we have with any recipient of the sales tax dollars,” Lengyel said.

The meeting was packed early on, as a large contingent showed up to support a proclamation from Supervisor Wilma Chan (District 3) which would name June 5 “Palestinian Cultural Day.” The item was pulled from the agenda before the meeting, to the anger of many of those present. When Miley gave the board’s reasoning—“the board tries not to get involved with International politics,” he said, especially for a “highly charged and highly political issue”—some in the audience responded with cries of “Shame on you!” More than a dozen people signed up to speak in support of the proclamation.

“Rethink what you have done and reissue the proclamation and be a proud county that honors the Palestinian people and the Palestinian culture,” said Donna Wallach, a resident of San Jose.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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