Extending and doubling the sales tax for transportation in Alameda County will face one of its key decisions this afternoon when the county transportation commission votes on moving ahead with a project list for the next 20 years.
A group of mass transit advocates from the bayside of this well-divided county held a press conference earlier this week to decry the $400 million that currently is allocated to extending BART to Livermore—the last outpost in the county without a BART line in its city. The first half-cent sales tax, passed in 1986, included partial funding that was critical in extending BART from San Leandro through Castro Valley to Dublin/Pleasanton.
The critics speaking out this week would prefer taking the money from the BART capital extension—which is about one-third of the estimated $1.2 billion cost—and instead allocating it to operating costs to AC Transit and other mass transit operators.
This becomes a particularly difficult argument for Livermore—one that Mayor John Marchand is making. The city makes up just 5.5 percent of the county’s population and its neighboring valley communities of Dublin and Pleasanton already are served by two BART stations. It’s not a long ride—by car or bus—to the terminal station from Livermore and $1.2 billion is a pile of money to spend for that convenience.
Of course, Livermore residents—like those in eastern Contra Costa County—have been paying for BART service through both property tax and sales tax since the district was established with nearby, but not direct service.
Another key factor is that Livermore sits at two gateways to Alameda County—for commuters coming west from San Joaquin County as well as those heading south from Brentwood and eastern Contra Costa.
If the BART extension can be shown to remove car traffic from I-580 west or I-680 south by capturing commuters entering the valley, then there’s a broader benefit than just for the residents of Livermore. The challenge is that these folks will use the system with subsidized tickets without paying any property tax to do so.
As important as the BART line is politically in Livermore, it’s far more important for the policymakers to remove the ill-advised provision that both doubles the tax and makes it permanent.
We already pay significantly more sales tax in Alameda County than elsewhere in the state because of the one-half-cent surcharge for the county hospital system, the one-half-cent sales tax for transportation and the BART one-half-cent tax.
The politicians that run the county commission (county supervisors and mayors of the cities) should have the guts to face the voters with extensions every 20 years. It builds accountability—something that’s sorely missing from most regional agencies where locally elected officials are appointed to serve and thus well removed from the voters who elect them.
If the commission sticks with the “permanent tax”, it should be rejected. Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley as well as mayors John Marchand, Jennifer Hosterman and Tim Sbranti will have that choice this afternoon.