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Published Sunday, July 6, 2003, in the San Jose Mercury News
Mass Transit's Future in Valley
In June, the Mercury News editorial board invited community and
government leaders to discuss the future of mass transit in Silicon
Valley. Here is their conversation.
(Participants in discussion at end of this article)
YARNOLD: The backdrop has changed significantly since three years ago,
when Carl and others led the fight for Measure A. The economy has
changed dramatically. We've seen the bottom fall out of sales-tax
revenue. Should we be doing something different from what we said we
would be doing in Measure A?
BROWNSTEIN: The real question is, should we do everything we can to
complete Measure A? And I would argue we should, for a variety of
reasons. One, there is an overwhelming political mandate to do that
package. Major constituencies have put their all into Measure A. In
addition, when I look at the basic things that I really want to see in
a transit system, Measure A ain't perfect, but Measure A meets those
goals. It improves the economy of the valley, and it meets equity
KENNEDY: The VTP (Valley Transportation Plan) 2020 is a working
document. We review it every three (years), every six (years). If our
dollars are down, we may have to delay a project here or there.
APPLEGATE: I think it is doable; however, there should be phases. I'm
also concerned that the staff at VTA has not done everything they
could to reduce costs.
BEALL: It's a good basic plan, but because of the financial problems
it's going to take longer to build. There's not enough money to either
build the whole thing or operate the whole thing. Like Jane says, when
you do a plan, times change, and you have to make adjustments. I don't
see any problem with telling people that.
RUBIN: I have something of an opposing view on Measure A. I don't
think it was a plan, I think it was a wish list. There was no proper
planning exercise. What is it we're trying to do? What resources do we
have, what are our options? This is the time to start over and look at
ALVARADO: When voters approved this, they approved the whole
package. The electorate did not vote for Measure A and particularly
for BART at the expense of the existing system. In order to stay true
to what the electorate's intentions were, you can't now put the
existing riders, the existing system, in a secondary position.
GUARDINO: Well, voters did clearly vote primarily vis a vis BART. And
that's not opinion, it's data, from five different surveys and four
different tracking polls. But what I really want to clarify is the
comment that somehow BART would come at the expense of the existing
system. Quite the contrary. If we didn't have Measure A when we did,
the cuts to the current system would have decimated the system. It is
only because Measure A passed, because of BART, that we are now able
to consider using some of those funds to save many parts of the
MOSSAR: The issue of geographic equity is a big deal in my part of the
world. Palo Alto has much more in common with the needs of San Mateo
County than it does with San Jose. We need a quality CalTrain
system. We need Dumbarton rail. On several occasions when I've said we
need Dumbarton rail, other board members have said, "Oh, but that
doesn't do anything for Santa Clara County." That's my concern.
And I remember Palo Alto voted more strongly than any other city in
the county for Measure A.
GUARDINO: Dena is right. Palo Alto voted overwhelmingly for this, and
Gilroy and Palo Alto, the furthest away from a BART line, when asked
in the survey "How important is BART?", were among the two highest of
the cities. I do have to say, though, that the reward goes to Henry
Manayan's constituents in Milpitas, who passed the measure with 75.3
percent of the vote.
MANAYAN: As a two-term mayor of Milpitas, I want to share that my
residents want to see BART at all costs. The reality is, there are
fiscal constraints. Light rail is one of those issues we need to take
a real hard look at, because of its very very high operating costs.
YARNOLD: Let me raise those light rail questions. Gary Richards did an
excellent piece about two months ago that looked at light rail
ridership, and even in good times, ridership wasn't extraordinary.
CIPOLLA: When we opened up Tasman West, we exceeded within that first
year what our projections were for the next 10 years. Two years ago we
couldn't put enough rail cars on the street. We couldn't put enough
buses on the street. I didn't hear any outcry at that time about
What you're doing right now is, you're confusing the current
operating issues of VTA and trying to tie it into Measure A. It's two
totally separate issues.
YARNOLD: Where do you think the focus ought to be?
CIPOLLA: The focus ought to be on how are we going to solve the
operating issues of the VTA. There's not going to be any Measure A
until you solve the operating issues. And it hasn't been a secret for
the eight years that I've been here, that we have an ongoing operating
issue lurking ahead of us.
GAGE: If you go back to 2000, unemployment was 1 percent. People were
extremely frustrated because of the traffic. A plan was put together
quickly because we wanted to capture the timing. Thirty years is a
very long time, and we're going to go through a lot of cycles in that
30 years. I think what's prudent now is to start looking at the goals
we want to achieve, and then start laying out how do we make all this
happen. It's really critical to do some significant planning. If we
don't, I think we're going to be a failure.
GUARDINO: The Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group ran the 1984 measure
and then the '96 and then the 2000 measure. And it's interesting to
remember that in the 1984 measure, to build 85 and improve 101 and 287
-- it's still viewed by 90 percent of the taxpayers as the best tax
investment they ever made locally. But not every interchange was
completed as planned. It is easy in the heart of the storm of the
economy right now to say, "Do we throw away the whole thing?" No. We
deliver the core plan.
HEMINGER: Maybe there's two bits of perspective from outside the
Valley. One, you've got $6 billion coming, starting in 2006. And if
you want to call that a "problem," there are four counties in the
North Bay that would gladly take that "problem" off your hands.
The second point is the opening this weekend of the BART extension to
the airport. That project That project went through the "Perils of
Pauline." I mean lawsuits, the airlines, garter snakes. There were
probably six or seven opportunities where it looked so dark that it
really wasn't worth going forward, and you are clearly in one of those
places right now. But I certainly don't think it's the time to give up
BROWNSTEIN: Getting back to the question of building light-rail -- the
real question becomes, "Are we going to do the downtown-eastside
line?" and "Are we going to do the two unnamed lines that are in
Measure A?" I think we should do the downtown-eastside line because
there are equity issues and economic-development issues that make it
legitimately a high-priority project. And we should probably put the
two unnamed lines at the back end of the Measure A package.
RUBIN: Transit has basically no influence whatsoever on traffic
congestion. Yes, voters did vote for BART. And I congratulate the job
of salesmanship, because just before that vote, MTC had the cost per
new passenger at just over $100, each direction, each day. Well, there
were some very interesting models a little later and they got it down
from $100 to $25, and let's just say I don't think that model would
win too many prizes, but, in spite of that, people voted for BART.
HEMINGER: I'd like to agree with at least one thing that Tom said. I
think transit has been oversold as some congestion-relief tool. What
transit really provides is capacity and reliability.
KROLL: I'm one of those Peninsula voters, and with my engineering
background, I looked at all negative reports. I voted for BART. I also
will tell you that as a Peninsula voter, to me the most important
thing is the electrification of CalTrain.
YARNOLD: When you look at the components of Measure A, what does go to
the back of the line?
CIPOLLA: There is a process for determining that. This group isn't
going to make that decision, it's going to be a conglomeration of
input from the community and the whole board of directors and a lot of
GAGE: You've got to get the right people, in the right room and ask
the right kind of questions. And I'm not seeing any action.
GUARDINO: One of my favorite quotes is: "We've run out of money. We're
going to have to think." Jim will remind you that with the '84 Measure
A, when the economy turned, and when some estimates from CalTrans
were, quite frankly, wrong on the cost of 85 -- did they decide,
"Well, should we not build 85 and just focus on 101 or 237? No, we're
going to build the core elements of each plan." Jim and his colleagues
went out and found 25 cents for every local dollar in regional, state
and federal funds. In two weeks Mayor (Ron) Gonzales and I will be
taking our sixth trip to DC in the last eight months, fighting for
federal dollars for the Measure A program.
YARNOLD: Can any of you see an option in which the original plan as
envisioned for BART to go into downtown San Jose won't happen?
RUBIN: The fiscal impracticality coupled with it's just not a very
good transportation system.
YARNOLD: There's not enough money in Measure A to do everything
Measure A calls for. So then why is it not appropriate to ask what
would you defer?
CIPOLLA: We've always said there was not enough money for the full
operation of everything in Measure A. That was a part of the measure
HEMINGER: To the extent that we can densify (development) along that
line, that will bring more riders to the system, which will lower the
operating subsidy required. That's a variable that we know very little
about right now.
KROLL: You need to let some of the land use decisions catch up with
light rail. If you could get density around transit stops, and one day
the economy roars back, things will get better.
YARNOLD: But to what extent are you basing that on your faith in the
economy coming back?
KROLL: I'm a developer, I have to believe that. If you start setting
up a land use decision and then you pull back on the transportation
solution, that will set us back years.
KENNEDY: Take Campbell, the Vasona line. We've been building all along
the line. This has been going on since the early '80s. It is
eventually going to work.
YARNOLD: Bob, what's the proper balance between transit that serves
the less-affluent, and transit that's primarily designed to take tech
workers to their job?
BROWNSTEIN: I definitely view that as a false dichotomy. You do not
have a transit system that only serves commuters, or a transit system
that only serves transit-dependent people. We have a fire department
in San Jose that puts out fires and shows up if you have a heart
attack. It's a multi-function organization.
One thing that makes me uncomfortable with some of this discussion is
the notion that circumstances define our destiny. Circumstances are
what we've got to deal with, but we have different options of
responding to those circumstances.
YARNOLD: Why don't we talk about paratransit, and whether there are
less-expensive alternatives to provide transit for the disabled.
CIPOLLA: Well, from a technical side, it's mandated, so we do
it. From the philosophical side, it's essential to provide these
individuals with transportation alternatives. And is it expensive?
Yes, it is. It's a $30 million-a-year piece of our budget.
GAGE: And we're doing more than we are required to do by law. But
people are going to have to pay a little bit more.
APPLEGATE: Unfortunately, VTA's proposal is to put more of that
operating expense on the back of the disabled. I have a paratransit
report which was done last year, and the whole focus is if we cut
ridership, we will save X amount of dollars. The report targets
seniors. They talk about how seniors have jumped into Outreach
vehicles as a private taxi service. The problems that seniors face are
actual disabilities that make it hard for them to ride a public bus.
MOSSAR: I remember the report. But I also remember the conversation,
and it was clearly, if someone can use another form of transportation,
we need to start shifting people in that direction. And we've been
very successful. We've been teaching seniors to use transit.
BEALL: I think we can always make it work better and try to save
money. And that's coming from a parent of somebody who's
developmentally disabled and uses paratransit. There are things that
could be done, to double up trips, other kinds of efficiencies.
YARNOLD: I think the only point of consensus I've heard is that the
current operating budget is in a state of crisis. I also hear a
majority view that the county ought to try to accomplish everything
that Measure A laid out. What I'm not clear about is how that's going
to get paid for, in terms of operating costs.
CIPOLLA: I think one of the key elements that came out of the ad hoc
financial committee was that you really don't consider building future
capital projects without identifying where those operating funds are
going to come from.
GUARDINO: I will be taking to my board of directors in a few weeks key
ingredients towards finding out, first, how do voters and taxpayers
feel about different options. And the only way you find that out is
the old-fashioned way, by asking them. So can we do some survey work?
And second, can we start building a very large community table to
really hash out how we help on the current operations side? How do we
make sure we meet the needs for operations in the Measure A program?
RUBIN: And I can tell you as the scenario has played out in many
places all over the U.S. There is a shortage of operating money. So we
have a fare increase. The fare increase drives away many current users
of transit, which then allows significant cutbacks in the amount of
service provided. So we get into a death spiral.
APPLEGATE: To sacrifice the current system at the expense of future
projects is like saying that I'm going to build a vacation home for my
family, but, for the next 20 years, we're going to be homeless.
YARNOLD: How does the VTA move forward?
CIPOLLA: It can't be the board of directors in a vacuum. The ultimate
policy decision rests with the board, but this board has already shown
clearly that they do it with a full, disclosed, public process and
with input from all sectors.
BROWNSTEIN: If you look at the history of this valley over the last
two decades, you see a tremendous commitment on the part of the voters
to support quality public services. If you don't have good schools, if
you don't have transit, if you don't have safe communities, if you
don't have libraries, you don't have a place where anybody wants to
locate or you don't have a place where talented employees want to
live. We want the public infrastructure that's going to provide the
quality of life for our families and for our employees.
* * *
An edited transcript.
Participants in discussion:
Assistant Director, Mayfair Improvement Initiative
Community Advocate, Silicon Valley Independent Living Center
Santa Clara County Supervisor and Metropolitan Transportation
Policy Director, Working Partnerships
General Manager, Valley Transportation Authority
Santa Clara County Supervisor and Vice Chair, Valley Transportation
President, Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group
Executive Director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Campbell City Council and Chair, VTA board
Principal, Regis Homes of Northern California
Former Mayor, Milpitas
Mayor, Palo Alto and VTA board
David M. Yarnold
Editor, San Jose Mercury News
This article was forwarded from BATN because the following keywords were found.
"campbell city" (2), "gilroy" (2), "milpitas" (6), "palo alto" (10),
"san jose" (10), "santa clara" (8), "silicon valley" (8),
"valley transportation authority" (4)
The following terms counted against the signal-to-noise ratio
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"dumbarton" (4x0.5), "san mateo" (2x1.0)