BikeLink in Sacramento

The City of Sacramento has installed some BikeLink bike storage lockers in parking garages. These are the first city-sponsored lockers, though Sacramento Valley Station (Capitol Corridor) has an extensive locker installation, Folsom has had lockers at the three light rail stations for several years, and Roseville has a few locations.

The new city locations are mostly parking garages: Memorial Garage, 805 14th St, City Hall Garage, 1000 I St, Capitol Garage, 1126 11th St, and Tower Bridge Garage, 135 Neasham Cir, with one additional location in the K St pedestrian tunnel to Old Town Sacramento/Sacramento Riverfront. I’m not overly fond of parking garage locations, as they are out of sight and not a place most bicyclists would think of to seek out bike parking, but they are certainly better than nothing, and people will eventually discover and use them.

BikeLink lockers in Sacramento Memorial Garage

I hope that the next set of BikeLink lockers in Sacramento are located centrally and visibly at high bicyclist traffic areas, for example DoCo, and the new convention center and community center. They are particularly important where bicycles will be parked for longer time periods, such as attending events, and where parking is needed at night. For short-term, day-time parking, regular bike racks will serve most users. However, employees who bike to work often do not have safe storage, I see a lot of bikes parked out behind buildings, locked to whatever can be found, and I suspect most of these are low-income employees of service businesses, who deserve better security for their bikes. So high retail locations like restaurant areas and malls should also have them, for the use of employees if not others.

I wrote about BikeLink in earlier posts: BikeLink, on-demand bike lockers at Sacramento Valley Station, and bike storage at light rail (note that the Folsom Pedal Stop is no longer there, but there are still 8 lockers at the Historic Folsom light rail station adjacent).

El Santo blocks sidewalk

The City of Sacramento’s Farm to Fork Al Fresco program, which has provided space for outdoor dining during the pandemic by using sidewalk, sidewalk buffer, parking lane, and/or street areas, has been in my opinion a great success. Though I’m COVID cautious and not partaking, I know that this program has been critical to keeping many restaurants in business. I hope that the program continues, to some degree, even after the pandemic. Even when dining inside is permitted again, I think these outdoor spaces are a strong addition to the livability of Sacramento, and in almost all cases is a better use of street space than parking. I strongly support the permanent closure of some street segments, particularly R Street between 14th and 15th, and 20th Street between J and K. I also support widening of sidewalks or buffer space so that more restaurants can permanently offer outside dining space.

In the initial rollout, there were a number of problems. Some of the sidewalk diversions were not posted properly, and the ramps provided did not meet ADA. In a few cases sidewalks were completely blocked, without providing an alternate route. But these problems seemed to be quickly resolved, through the work of the city, business owners, and business associations. I talked with a number of restaurant owners and managers, making suggestions of improvements, and they almost always made them. Though I recognize some people don’t think there should be dining or drinking outside at all during the pandemic, this program really has a good vibe, in my mind. The businesses have been positive, the people have been positive.

Except El Santo. El Santo, a restaurant/night club at K Street and 10th Street, put up a barrier and shelter that completely blocks the sidewalk on the south side of K. For a while, the sidewalk to the east was blocked by an active utility construction zone, but that construction is long since over. People walking or rolling (wheelchair) are forced out onto the detectable warning stripe (very uncomfortable to travel along) or the light rail tracks (dangerous). See the photo below.

El Santo, K St & 10th St, blocking sidewalk

I reported this issue to the city on September 23, 2020. I don’t know when the blockage was installed, since this was my backpacking season and I may well have missed it. It is not clear to me whether the city gave issued a faulty encroachment permit or whether the business violated the permit, but the effect is the same, a sidewalk that can’t be used. I followed up with a phone call January 6, 2021. Nothing has been done to correct the issue. The business does not care, the city does not care. It is problems like this one, allowed to fester, that will darken public perception of the Al Fresco program.

Sac community air protection

A group of partners led by Valley Vision is undertaking a project to identify location for new air quality monitors in low-income, high-pollution areas of Sacramento, specifically Old North Sacramento and Oak Park. For more on the project, which will install 20 Clarity Node-S monitors for particulate matter 2.5 and nitrogen dioxide, see the Valley Vision webpage at https://www.valleyvision.org/projects/community-air-protection/.

The issue is that these two communities are subject to significant negative air quality impacts from a variety of sources but primarily freeways which slice through both communities, and high-traffic arterials. But no one really knows what the problem is, because there are no air quality monitors in those neighborhoods. Below, a map of existing Clarity monitors. The concentration in South Sacramento is due to a similar earlier project, funded by AB 617, but there are none in Old North Sacramento, and one at the edge of Oak Park.

Clarity locations

PurpleAir, a citizen-led network of air quality monitors, has a better distribution, but still only one in Old North Sacramento and a few in Oak Park. These are particulate matter monitors, and gained great popularity with the wildfire smoke incidents of the last few years.

PurpleAir locations

What about the official air quality monitors, the ones used to set air quality alerts for the county? Here they are (little red dots). You might think, surely some must be missing. Nope. These stations mesure air quality for the entire county. Update: I replaced the map graphic with one showing all Sacramento County locations, created a pdf map, and added a table of locations.

EPA AQS locations

Sacramento County is a nonattainment area for ozone 8-hr (2015 standard), PM2.5 24-hr (2006 standard), and PM10 (1987 standard).

The project, of course, is not just about monitoring air quality, but about identifying solutions to improve air quality. Community Project Advisory Committees will be formed in both neighborhoods to guide deployment, data collection, and actions and ongoing collaboration for solutions.

I participated in the first listening sessions, for Oak Park, on January 13. Participants had a lot of suggestions for locations, particularly ones where there are high volumes of traffic, as well as places such as schools where the pollution is most harmful. There was also a lot of talk about solutions, with reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by increasing walkability and providing better transit service being the most commonly mentioned.

There are three more sessions to come, January 20, 26, and 28. Please see the project webpage for details and to register: https://www.valleyvision.org/projects/community-air-protection/ (scroll down to just below the map).

If you live in these two neighborhoods, or work or shop or recreate there, I strongly encourage you to participate in some way and make your voice heard. Even for others, it would be good to track and support the project. I strongly believe that our lack of monitoring capacity allows us to think that air quality in the county is better than it really is, and allows the public to overlook that it is mostly low-income, high-minority neighborhoods that bear the brunt of air pollution from our cars-first development pattern and long distance commuter freeways.

Added two graphics showing the community areas in more detail.

Oak Park
Old North Sacramento/Norwood

Sac general plan and housing

The City of Sacramento is updating its general plan, and as part of that process considering modification of zoning and development restrictions, with the intent of allowing the creation of more housing. A recent SacBee article, Sacramento has a plan to address its housing crisis. Some neighborhoods are fighting it, covered some of the changes being proposed by city staff, and some opposition to those ideas. The opposition is coming from neighborhood associations in East Sacramento, Elmhurst, and Land Park, at least so far. Though neighborhood associations usually represent only some of the richer and more powerful residents, they are nonetheless very politically powerful, particularly East Sacramento and Land Park, so the views of these will hold some sway with city council. I will address some of the misconceptions represented in the neighborhood association viewpoints.

These neighborhoods, along with Oak Park, were originally streetcar suburbs, developed by and for the profit of the streetcar companies and their associated development interests (greedy developers, no doubt). I recommend Bill Burg’s Sacramento’s Streetcars book (and any writing by Bill), and you can view part of the content at http://sacramentohistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/sacramentos-streetcar-suburbs.html. As such, the development pattern is a relic of times past, which met the needs of that time but do not necessarily meet the needs of this time. East Sacramento and Elmhurst had more businesses than they do now, so they are less livable neighborhoods than once they were. Not sure about Land Park. Yes, most of the housing was single family and duplexes, but there were multi-family homes as well.

The neighborhood associations want to fix their neighborhoods in time, so that they never change. That is not possible. Neighborhoods either change or decline over time. Midtown is a continual example of that, as buildings that no longer serve are either converted or replaced. The reason these three neighborhoods have only experienced some decline is that rich people live in these neighborhoods and have been able to forestall decline by an infusion of money that they’ve made in other parts of the city and region.

Fixing a neighborhood in time, if it is in good condition, will inevitably lead to inflation of home values, which I consider unearned income. Maintaining and updating houses is not what I mean, I mean that the value just goes up and up regardless of any action on the part of the owner. Many of these homes are now unaffordable for middle class people, even though that is primarily who they were built for (with the fabulous 40s and homes right on Land Park park being exceptions). Intentional scarcity makes anything more expensive, and the neighborhood associations like intentional scarcity.

So what do middle class people do? They move out to the sprawling suburbs in an attempt to find affordable housing. Of course this is partly an illusion because the cost of car ownership and the time lost to commuting subtract most or all of that cheaper housing benefit. I attribute the explosion of the sprawling suburbs in large part to the fact that the inner ring suburbs refused to allow intensification of housing to accommodate more people. Many of the people in these old neighborhoods consider themselves to be progressive, yet their resistance to change produced vast sprawl, high speed arterials and the pollution, climate change, death, and un-livability that goes with these outer suburbs, and exurbs. A phrase that has been used by many to highlight this is pretty accurate, “I’ve got mine, screw you”.

Another impact is that in an effort to prevent all change, they actually induce undesirable change. From the article: “Their fear is that investors will tear down single-family homes and replace them with poorly-maintained rental properties, charging high rents to Bay Area transplants to turn a big profit.” What instead happens is that even richer people buy small houses, tear them down, and build large McMansions on the same lot. In many cases these McMansions violate current zoning, but that is no problem is you have enough money or political power. Yes, I know that the neighborhood associations hate that too, but it is in part a result of their resistance to change. Apparently a McMansion is better than multi-family? Not in my worldview.

Bill Burg (@oldcityguardian) recently posted a photo of midtown variety of housing types, below, and a diagram of various floor area ratio scenarios, indicating the FAR of 1.0 for much of Sacramento is probably too low, and the FAR of 2.0 for the central city is too low.

variety of housing forms, midtown Sac (Bill Burg photo)
Floor Area Ratio (FAR) diagram (source unknown, via Bill Burg)

Lastly, I find the frequent assumption by homeowners that renters are somehow less community involved as ridiculous. I have been a renter every day since I left my parent’s house (I’m 68, so that is a lot of years), and I know only a very few homeowners (also friends) that have been more involved in their community.

9th St blocked by construction

Thank you, Ali Doerr Westbrook, for flagging the latest violation of walker and bicyclist accommodation on a construction project in Sacramento.

The east side of 9th St between L St and the alley is blocked by a construction project. Both the sidewalk and bike lane are blocked. There is no advance signing at 9th and K for southbound walkers and bicyclists, as required by ADA. There is no signing on the construction fencing, as required by ADA. Construction fencing is not an acceptable detectable warning, as required by ADA. Note that this construction project, the conversion of Capitol Park Hotel into supportive housing, is a city project, so not only is the city responsible for a traffic plan that accommodates walkers and bicyclists, but field checking that the plan is being followed, and enforcing it when it is not.

9th St at K St, no advance warning of closure ahead for walkers or bicyclists

This blockage would in itself be bad, but it is made worse by the blockage of the sidewalk on the west side of 9th St, between K and the alley. This private project is also not properly signed and barricaded. Between these two projects, there is NO walker access on 9th St between K St and L St. None. None. None. Of course one could cross at the alley between one side and the other, but then the city conveniently has a walker-hostile code that crossing streets at alleys is illegal. Got the bases covered, Sacramento!

Though the most egregious, this incident is just the latest in a series of offences in the central city. I have posted on some of these here (tag: construction zone), and on Twitter. I’ve also reported a large number of them to the city’s 311 app. Of these 311 reports, about half are closed without anything being done. Making the same report multiple times increases the likelihood, but doesn’t guarantee it.

The worst of the violations are on city projects. The renewal of Memorial Auditorium had issues. Though now finished, it resulted in the permanent closure of the sidewalk on the south side of I Street. The next worse offense is the ongoing city project called 3C, the convention center and community auditorium construction project. Though some of the issues have been resolved here, several remain, particularly on the 15th St side. And this Capitol Park Hotel project is also a city project. There have been other city project problems, but I don’t have time today to go back through my records and photos to identify all of them.

In response to the concerns from myself and many others, the city had said that it would come up with a construction accommodation policy. After a year, nothing has happened. The city, at least the part of the city responsible for construction zone traffic plans, just does not care. Walkers and bicyclists are routinely ignored or actively discriminated against, in favor of motor vehicle drivers. The city is in violation of its ADA consent decree in allowing these issues to occur and to continue.

How to fund transit in Sac county

This post is a follow-on to three previous posts, in particular:

and many other posts on this blog (category Measure B) and on Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (categories Measure B 2016 and Measure A 2020).

It is quite possible that Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) will decide to float a new transportation sales tax measure in 2022 or 2024. The transit, walking and bicycling advocacy community, which worked hard but largely unsuccessfully to improve the 2020 Measure A, which never made it to the ballot, will have to decide what to do between now and then. I argue that efforts to improve the newest measure will not significantly improve it because: 1) the SacTA board is resistant to including policy and performance goals in the measure; 2) the list of projects is and probably will always be a wish list of the engineers in each of the government transportation agencies in the county, which will always be weighted towards cars-first and ribbon cutting projects; and 3) SacTA gave strong lip service to the idea of maintenance (fix-it-first) in the measure, but there was nothing to guarantee that the expenditures would actually reflect that. One has only to look at the condition of our surface streets, sidewalks and bike lanes, and bus stops and light rail vehicles, to know that has never been the priority.

I would like to suggest three major alternatives to a new transportation sales tax measure put forward by SacTRA:

  • a citizen-initiated measure that reflects the values of the residents and businesses of Sacramento County, and not the preferences of engineers
  • a transit-only measure (with first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements), either for the county, or the actual service area of the transit agencies where residents support transit
  • other sources of income rather than a regressive sales tax

Citizen-initiated Measure

A citizen-initiated funding measure only needs to pass by 50%+1, whereas agency-initiated measures need to pass by 2/3. The 2/3 level is hard though not impossible to achieve – several transportation and transit measures in California have achieved that level, but certainly 50% is easier. This 50% is not based on a specific state law, but on a court ruling about San Francisco’s tax measures which passed with more than 50%. It will probably be subject to further court cases as anti-tax organizations try to overturn the ruling, but for now, it stands. The 2016 Measure B had a yes vote of 64%+, but needed 2/3, and therefore failed. The polling done for the 2020 Measure A was also less than 2/3, which is why Sacramento County and SacTA declined to put it on the ballot.

I have no illusions about how difficult it would be to engage the community, write a ballot measure, and then promote it strongly enough to receive a 50% plus vote. The recent experience the community organizations that supported a measure for stronger rent stabilization and eviction protection in the City of Sacramento, that failed to pass, gives pause. The SacMoves coalition spent thousands of hours of individual and organization time, basically writing a good measure for SacTA to use, but very little of that effort was included in the measure proposed by SacTA. A successful citizen-initiated measure would require more than double the amount of work, and a broader coalition. Nevertheless, it is an option that I think should receive serious consideration.

I doubt that the structure of SacTA, which is board members that are elected in each of the jurisdictions, without formal citizen or organization representation on the board, combined with a Transportation Expenditure Plan that is and will alway be a wish list for roadway engineers, can ever lead to a good measure. We could of course wait to see what SacTA comes up with, or again try the largely unsuccessful attempt to improve the measure, or just oppose any measure from SacTA.

Transit-Only Measure

The percentage of 2020 Measure A allocated to transit was actually lower than in the 2016 Measure B, and lower than in the existing Measure A. Some of the difference in 2020 was due to the regional rail allocation being subtracted from the transit allocation, but there was more to it than just that. Sadly, SacRT accepted this reduction as ‘the best they could get’. To citizen advocates, though, it was unacceptable. Since the 2020 measure was not placed on the ballot, it was not necessary for advocates to formally oppose passage of the measure, but I believe most of them would have.

A transit-only measure would avoid this competition between maintenance, roadway capacity expansion, and transit (notice that walking and bicycling are not really in the competition at all), by allocating all funds to transit and related needs. The amount of course would not be the half-cent sales tax of the 2020 Measure A, but more likely a quarter-cent sales tax (or equivalent in other incomes sources, see the next section). Certainly the advocacy community would support first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements in the measure, though I’m not sure exactly how it would be defined or whether the percentage would be specified ahead of time.

A transit-only measure would more easily allow the SacRT to determine how much to allocate to capital (bus and light rail vehicles and rail, and related items such as bus stops and sidewalks) versus operations, and to change that allocation over time as needs changed. The three counties that are members of Caltrain passed 2020 Measure RR for a eighth-cent sales tax to fund operations, with 69% of the vote, and at least 2/3 in each county, precedence in California for transit-only measures.

For a transit-only measure, a decision would have to be made about the geographical area it covers. Sacramento County, only and exactly, or Sacramento County plus the YoloBus service area, or just the transit-using areas. It was clear that the strongest support for 2016 Measure B was in the transit-using parts of Sacramento County, and if these areas were the only ones, it would have passed easily. There has also been a lot of opposition to transit expenditures on the part of the county supervisors who say they represent the rural and semi-rural areas of the county (it is statistically impossible that three of the five supervisors represent rural, given that the population of the county is mostly urban and denser suburban). A lot of advocates then said, well, if they don’t want transit, then let’s exclude voters and their tax income in the future. Of course the projects defined in the measure, mostly capacity expansion, could not be funded off sales tax from only the rural and semi-rural areas, so most of these would never happen. And I think that is a good thing.

Other Sources

The sales tax rate in Sacramento County is 7.75%, and ranges up to 8.75% in the City of Sacramento and some other locations. I am not opposed to sales tax, but I think we are at or close to the point of diminishing returns on sales tax income versus impact on people and businesses. Sales taxes are regressive, in that lower income people pay a much higher percentage of their income for sales tax than do higher income people. It is not the most regressive of taxes, that award probably goes to flat rate parcel taxes where people with a lot of land and expensive buildings pay the same as anyone else. For more detail on possible funding sources, please see my earlier post: transportation funding ideas.

California under Prop 13 has an intentionally biased tax base, where property tax depends more on when you purchased than on the value of the property. I really hoped that 2020 Prop 15 would pass, undoing part of the tremendous damage that Prop 13 has done to California, but it did not. So while small and gradual increases in property tax income can occur, it is probably not enough to finance our transportation system. This saddens me, because I believe property tax would be the best, most equitable source of funding.

If property tax can serve only part of the need, and further sales tax increases are not my preference, what then? First, I think that both federal and state funding of transportation should move away from any and all roadway capacity expansion. Overall federal and state transportation funding should be greatly reduced so that it only funds needs that are more than county or regional level. And yes, federal and state taxes should be commensurately reduced, so that the money does not simply go elsewhere. State prohibitions on the type of taxes and fees that can be levied at the city and county level should be mostly or entirely removed, so that cities and counties can then recover the foregone state and federal taxes for whatever transportation uses they deem.

Local transportation needs would still exist, and should be locally funded. Yes, I want Sacramento County to provide most of the transportation funding for Sacramento County. It is necessary that local people pay for transportation, and see the benefit of what they pay for, so that they can make rational decisions about what they want and how to pay for it. Getting state and federal grants to meet local transportation needs is just a game that agencies play, hoping that they will somehow get more than they give. We know that states with strong economies, such as California, subsidize transportation in other places, and that regions with strong economies such as Los Angeles area, Bay Area, and maybe Sacramento, subsidize transportation in other regions. No reason for that to be happening, unless the need being addressed is regional or greater. If you don’t agree on this, I’d ask that you read Strong Towns Rational Response #1: Stop and Rational Response #1: What it means to STOP. And everything else by Strong Towns, for that matter.

We have spent trillions of dollars on a motor vehicle transportation system, with the biggest accomplishment being destruction of communities of color, impoverished economies and communities, pollution-caused health problems, climate change, and death, injury, and intimidation of walkers and bicyclists. It is time to stop. All future funding should go to maintenance, transit, intercity trains, walking, and bicycling. Those who want to bring ‘balance’ by making a small shift are asking that we continue the madness. We should not.

Examples of projects or maintenance that should come from the state or federal level? The Interstate highways that are actually dedicated to national defense and interstate commerce. In Sacramento region, that means Interstate 5 and Interstate 80. No, not the current freeways that have been bloated to serve local and regional commuters, but the highways. Two lanes in each direction would be sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of these highways. All additional lanes, if any, should be completely funded at the local level because they serve local needs. Long distance and regional rail should also be funded. In the case of Sacramento, that means the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr, and the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins regional rail. That’s pretty much it. There might be some argument for funding freight rail infrastructure and maintenance, not sure. No, I don’t think airports should be funded at the any level, they are a transportation mode that benefits primarily high income travelers and shipping corporations. If they want that infrastructure, they should pay for it.

So, how to fund transportation in the county?

First, charge for parking everywhere, even in residential areas. A residential parking permit should reflect the part cost of maintaining all streets. Quite possibly, people would reduce their use of the public street to store their personal vehicle, and might reduce their ownership of vehicles so that they don’t need to park on the street, and those would be good side effects, but would also limit the income from those permits. When there are fewer vehicles parked, there is less resistance to re-allocating space to sidewalks, sidewalk buffers, and bike lanes. Metered parking should be raised to ‘market rates’ which means what it would cost to park in a private garage or lot, AND achieves the Shoupian ideal of at least one open parking space on every block. Of course all parking revenue should go to transportation, not to other uses (such as paying off the Golden 1 Center). The Pasadena model of using some parking income to improve the street and surrounding areas is compatible.

Second, charge for entry into congested areas. In Sacramento County, that would primarily mean the central city. The purpose of this fee is not to reduce congestion, though the fees are often called congestion fees, but to obtain the income necessary to build and maintain our transportation network. The fee would be for each entry, so that people who live in the central city but don’t use their car much would not be paying a lot, while people who commute into the central city for their own convenience would be paying a lot.

These two sources alone might well not meet the need for transportation funding in the county, and I don’t have a ready solution to that. I don’t want development impact fees to go to transportation because I think they should be used to upgrade utilities and fund affordable housing. Same with title transfer taxes.

So, those are my thoughts of the moment. Comments and other or additional ideas are welcome.

transportation funding ideas

First, some background. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) publication: Transportation Funding in California (2019), documents what funding is currently available in the state, but mostly serves to reflect how complicated the whole funding stream is. I don’t think this is an unintended consequence, but a design feature, as a complex system benefits engineers, planners and politicians by obscuring inputs and outputs.

Next, there are many useful sources of information on potential funding, but two I find useful are: Key Local Funding Options, by Transportation for America, and A Guide to Transportation Funding Options, by Texas Transportation Institute.

I don’t claim any expertise in transportation funding, but I am reading and thinking, and am presenting some ideas for your consideration.

This exploration is both the result of Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) to pull the ordinance and request for ballot measure for the 2020 Measure A transportation sales tax, as well as an ongoing dissatisfaction with our current funding models. The current Measure A is a 30-year (2009-2039) transportation measure for the county of Sacramento which implements a half-cent sales tax. Though there are minor amounts of funding from other sources at the county level, and in the cities, this measure is the main source of local funding for transportation.

Sales taxes are regressive, in that lower income people spend a higher percentage of their income on sales tax than do higher income people. Of course most of our tax system is set up this way, as the higher income people, particularly the top 1%, buys politicians with political donations who will make sure that their tax burden remains as low as possible. The Trump tax cuts are just one example, where nearly all of the benefits went to high income individuals and large corporations. The huge income and wealth disparity in the US is no accident, it is the design of the taxation system. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to talk about less regressive taxes.

A few alternative potential sources are listed. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, please see the leading documents if you want a fuller list. Rather, it is ideas that appeal to me.

  • Income tax: While. in theory, income taxes are progressive, they have been made less and less so over time, and in fact are currently regressive because high income and high wealth individuals, and large corporations, write tax code that reduces their obligations. In fact many large corporation pay no taxes at all. Because California largely follows the federal tax law, California’s income tax is also regressive. Nevertheless, income tax is less regressive than sales tax. However, California does not allow local income taxes.
  • Property tax: Property tax is based on the value of land and improvements (at least theoretically, though assessment practices actually muddy the waters). This is the least regressive tax available, since the value of the property being taxes correlates highly with income and wealth. It is what should be funding most of our government services. But as you well know, Prop 13 corrupts that by holding the taxation rate on some properties to artificially low values. Proposition 15 (2020) will remove that limitation on commercial properties, but does not touch residential properties. Most of the billions in income from Proposition 15 will go to education, as it probably should, but some can be made available for transportation.
  • Property tax increment: When the value of property increases due to a specific transportation investment, the additional property tax collected can be used to pay for the investment, usually through bond repayment. Sounds good, but in California the tax increment has been so corrupted by giving tax breaks to large corporations that almost no one trust the funding mechanism anymore.
  • Property tax assessment: Taxes are raised on parcels that are expected to benefit from a transportation investment. This seems like a great idea, but from my understanding Prop 13 limitations mean that this is rarely done, and special assessments default to parcel taxes. Worth learning more about.
  • Parcel tax: These are flat rate taxes on property. Because every parcel pays the same amount, these taxes are incredibly regressive. Unfortunately schools and many other local taxing districts use parcel taxes. Their regressive nature should preclude their use for transportation.
  • Vehicle registration fee: These include a number of related fees, see https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/vehicle-registration/registration-fees/ if you want more details. These fees are based in part on vehicle value, so they are more progressive than many fees/taxes. It is not clear whether counties/cities/regions can charge vehicle fees. As a highly visible fee, this one tends to get a lot of attention from anti-tax people.
  • Fuel tax (or mileage fee): This tax, or fee, relates to fuel used or miles traveled. These taxes/fees are therefore a user fee, the user of the transportation system pays for the transportation system. However, I don’t think California allows such taxes/fees at the local level.
  • Parking fees: Parking charges are a variety of user fees, but instead of based on the vehicle when moving, based on when the vehicle is still. Parking fees are collected and expended at the local level, so this a strong nexus. In California, parking fees are theoretically only allowed to cover the cost of administering the parking, and not even the cost of constructing and maintaining the parking space, however, this is widely violated and is probably a ripe are for reform. Parking is in many ways a wasted part of our transportation system, socialism for car owners, so this one should be at the top of the list.
  • Congestion pricing: A fee changed to vehicles entering a defined area of the city where there is congestion of some sort. I think the term ‘congestion’ is unfortunately in this context, as it implies that congestion is something to be solved, but it is, for now, the commonly used term. Transportation use fee or something else might be better. At any rate, sometimes the fee is per vehicle, and sometimes it is adjusted by the weight (= pavement damage) or pollution output of the vehicle. Congestion fees have been criticized for having an inequitable impact on lower incomes, but this idea has been widely rebutted by the realization is that the most inequitable transportation system is on that requires people to own and use private vehicles.
  • General Funds: Cities and counties may of course, spend general funds, raised by any variety of taxes and fees, on transportation. But they rarely do. Part of the reason has to do with federal and state grants being a ‘free’ source of funds, that the local entity doesn’t have to raise or be blamed for, but flows freely from a higher level of government to the local. I would argue that at least some general funds should be spent on transportation, to provide at least a basic level of services and infrastructure.

This is just a quick run-through. Next post is about what I think should be emphasized for Sacramento county.

no Measure A in 2020

The Sacramento Transportation Authority decided today in a special meeting to “Repeal Ordinance No. STA 20-001 And Withdraw Request To The Board of Supervisors To Place The Measure On The November Ballot”. So Measure A is dead for the 2020 election. I celebrate this decision, but not for the reasons that most of the commenters online and by email gave.

A lot of the people opposed to the measure are simply opposed to any taxes, of any sort. The claim was made by a number of commenters that no roads had been fixed in the county. This is simply not true. Several roads have been paved, and a few reconstructed. The reason it looks like not much has been done is that there is so much need, so much deferred maintenance, that available funds can make only a small dent in the backlog. This is a significant point, as there is no amount of money, even if every cent went to fixing roads, to maintain the sprawling road and freeway infrastructure that the county and the cities have created. The economic value of these road investments is too small to maintain them. Economic productivity lies in places where there are a lot of jobs and a lot of small businesses, and that takes at least moderate density. The suburbs and exurbs of Sacramento county can’t provide that economic value, their value is just too low. Most of the commenters are under the illusion that someone guaranteed that their roads would be maintained even if their property taxes and sales taxes and other taxes were not sufficient to cover the cost. This is delusional. A lot of commenters suggested that the politicians are lying to them, and that the money is going somewhere else. Well, what the politicians are doing is not telling the truth that the infrastructure cannot be maintained on any conceivable tax. There are too many miles of roads, running through low density development, that can’t pay its own way. There are too many miles of freeway and expressway, serving to get commuters from their low-tax haven in the suburbs to their high value job in the job centers such as downtown Sacramento, and parts of Rancho Cordova and Folsom.

I know that a number of SacTA board members want to bring the same measure back in two years, when they hope (and I hope) that we are out of the current health and economic crises, and voters are more willing to vote for a transportation sales tax measure. I sincerely hope that is not what happens. I hope that instead people see that sales taxes are a dead-end road, and that the projects proposed were not the ones needed. I’ll have at least two more posts over the next two days about what I would like to see happen.

Restaurant space update

There are now several more allocations of sidewalk and roadway space in Sacramento for restaurant outside dining, since my May 28 post (https://gettingaroundsac.blog/2020/05/28/restaurant-space/).

I have created an album on Flickr of my photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715113286843. I am not claiming that I have an exhaustive archive, there may well be other locations that I have not run across. Let me know if you know of others.

Most of the installations have been done reasonably well. I feel that it is better to place dining space in the parking lane, or even travel lane, rather than the sidewalk, however, if done well, using sidewalk is OK. Yesterday I did run across a completely illegal diversion on R Street. It is not legal to simply put up sidewalk closed signs without providing an ADA accessible pathway.

R Street illegal closure

I reported it, and the city had removed it in less than 24 hours. Already underway though, were plans to close this section of street and allocate it to restaurant dining and pedestrians. Some bollard bases had already been installed, and more were being placed this morning. These bollards will allow the closure (to cars) of R Street between 15th and 14th, R Street between 14th St and 13th, 14th Street between R Street and Rice Alley (to the south). It may be that additional bollards bases will be placed to allow a more refined closure.

I assume that since bollard bases and bollards are being installed, rather than just construction/detour signs, it appears likely that the intent is that temporary closures will continue to be available past the pandemic.

There were contractor crews working this morning to set up tents for outdoor dining, in the section of R Street between 15th and 14th. It isn’t clear to me yet whether other sections of street are going to be closed (to cars) at this time, or if the bollard bases are just in preparation for future use.

R Street at 15th Street, bollards, tents in background

This work is apparently a cooperative project between the city and R Street Partnership, but I do not know the role of each.

Against Measure A

The Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) has developed an ordinance and transportation expenditure plan for a new half cent transportation sales tax, intended for the November ballot. All of the cities and the county have supported the measure (some overwhelmingly, some closer), and SacTA has voted to forward the measure to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors for placement on the ballot. There are reluctance to put a tax measure on the ballot when so many other tax increases have happened over the last few years, and in such a time of uncertainty. But it is also being sold by boosters as a jobs creation program. I can’t predict what the supervisors will do. Nonetheless, it is my time to speak out against the measure.

Here is what I believe to be wrong, first as a tax measure:

  • The proposed Measure A is in large part an attempt to bail out the existing Measure A, which is nearly out of money because almost all projects were bonded (a gift to wall street), rather than being pay-as-you-go with a few exceptions for large or very high priority projects. There is no reason to think that financial mis-management won’t continue under the new measure, and there is nothing in the ordinance language to prevent it.
  • Sales taxes are inherently regressive, and we must stop funding government with sales tax. It is time to move to property tax and other taxing mechanisms. Sales tax places the greatest burden on those least able to afford it, as low income people pay a much larger percentage of their income to sales tax than do higher income people. This is not an argument against all sales taxes, but I think we have gone far enough down that road and it is time to STOP.
  • The anti-tax arguments against the measure, however, are a red herring. The anti-tax suburbs and exurbs exist because of subsidies of their infrastructure and transportation system by the rest of the county. For these people to now object to the measure because it doesn’t continue to provide them the high level of subsidy they demand is disingenuous, to say the least.

Second, as a transportation measure:

  • Measure A perpetuates, for 40 years, the cars-first model of transportation, continuing to expand lane miles and interchanges. The fact that there is money for transit and to fix roads does not change the climate-killing expansion agenda of the measure. Transportation expenditures should now be 100% for mitigating the effects of our past misallocation of transportation funds, not reinforcing them. Anyone who is paying any attention knows that the global climate change is going to slam our existing habits and infrastructure, and to me, the idea of continuing down the road of capacity expansion is criminal.
  • No amount of transit expenditure will bring us to a balanced system so long as we continue to fund (subsidize) the competition to transit, personal motor vehicles.
  • Freeways are inherently racist, since they were created and continue to serve to allow suburban and exurban whites to access central city jobs while not have to fund or support central city infrastructure. We have seventy years of catering to the desires of suburban whites, and it is time to shift to supporting those who were disinvested.
  • Though the transportation agencies continue to give lip service to maintenance, or ‘fix-it-first’, no sooner does the tax start then they are trying to undermine maintenance. It has always been this way and will continue until there are absolute and irrevocable commitments to maintenance. Measure A contains no such commitments.
  • Substantial portions of the Measure A TEP are for highway interchanges. These projects exist solely to benefit private development, often the sprawl development of greenfields (agricultural and open space lands). Citizens are forced to subsidize private development, and that development is always large developers and large corporations, never small developers and small businesses.
  • The Capital Southeast Connector is probably the worst transportation project this region has ever seen. Its purpose is to fuel long distance commutes between El Dorado Hills (which is not even in the county) and Elk Grove, and to develop the agricultural land along the alignment. The amount of money going to the project from Measure A has been scaled back a bit, but a stake needs to be driven through the heart of this zombie project, which has been built little by little under the nose of taxpayers, without the required evaluation of the entire project.

And lastly, SacTA ignored most of the input from the SacMoves coalition that could have improved the measure. The input, based on Los Angeles County (Metro)’s successful Measure M and the perspectives of the Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change, was developed over a long period of time by a large variety of community advocacy organizations. Of the model proposals, only a small part was adopted. This despite the board members saying that they wanted to see a Measure M-like effort. When push came to shove, the board fell back on reliance on the the highway building lobby and its city and county minions.

What will happen if the sales tax measure does not go on the ballot, or if it does but fails in November? Well, I know SacRT is so concerned about this that they have placed their effort behind the measure. But the failure, either way, actually opens the window for a transit-only ballot measure, maybe with a source of income other than sales tax, and covering the parts of the county (and maybe part of Yolo County) where people actually want a successful transit system. The very recent court ruling that citizen-origination measures only need 50% plus to pass providing an intriguing possibility for a citizen-led effort to support transit.

I realized I’ve said some very radical things there. Comments that help illuminate the issues or give different perspectives on progressive change are welcome. Comments from suburban NIMBYs and people who believe the right to drive was written into the constitution and bible will be deleted, so don’t waste your time.

Though I have been or am a member of the SacMoves coalition, and several organizations which are members of the coalition, I do not speak for any of them. The words are my own.