Missing the message on Measure B

This is a letter I sent to my representative on the Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) board of directors.


I read the Measure B report from Executive Director Jeffrey Spencer, item 12 on Thursday’s agenda, and I have to say I’m rather disturbed by it. (here, or page 41 of the SacTA agenda packet)
In paragraph one, he is completely incorrect about the voter turnout. It was 74.5%, similar to past elections, both on-year and off-year.

In paragraph three, he claims $35K spent by Measure B opposition, and though he doesn’t provide any reference for this, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he did an FPPC records request and used that info. However, he does not mention political spending by the pro-B group, as well as “educational” spending by SacTA, SacRT, Sacramento County, and the cities such as the glossy mailers that clogged my mailbox. His implication is that pro-B got outspent, but that simply cannot be true.

In paragraph three, he also stated “These news releases and reports are not always factual and can rely on conjecture. Although providing untrue statements, the general public cannot decipher the facts and may rely on this group’s opinions.” That is a pretty amazing statement coming from a public official. Is he really accusing anti-B of lying? He fails to mention that the pro-B glossy mailers had a number of factual errors, mis-statement, straw-men, and questionable implications.

In paragraph four, he says “Discussions with voters after the election…” What voters, whose discussion? I would think there would be documentation here. Though I’m certainly not claiming anything but anecdotal evidence, I heard two things from voters after the election: 1) anti-tax sentiment, and 2) opposition to a measure that spent so much on roadway expansion and so little on transit. Voters got that there was a focus on fixing roadways, and the pro vote was probably in large part due to that, but they also recognized that there was unnecessary roadway expansion larded onto the measure.

You can’t solve a problem if you misidentify what that problem is, and in my opinion, Mr. Spencer has failed to admit failure, has mis-identified the reasons for that failure, and therefore, cannot solve the problem.

If SacTA is to have any chance of moving forward WITH the community to address transportation issues, they need to a) listen to the public, and b) come up with innovative solutions rather than the 1970s thinking represented by the failed Measure B.

Measure B and air quality

Warning: nerdy detail ahead, but nerdy detail of critical importance to acheiving air quality goals in the region.

In the April 2016 draft Measure B included the following language:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase that must be included in a federally approved air quality conformity determination to either the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) shall have consistent project descriptions to the listing in the MTP & MTIP before the Authority allocates construction funding for the project phase.

The final Measure B language is:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure_ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase shall not impair the ability of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) to meet federal air quality conformity, as determined by the Sacramento Transportation Authority Governing Board.

The difference may seem subtle at first glance, but it is not! The original language meant that:

  • projects must be considered as a whole, not piecemeal
  • all projects must meet federal air quality goals
  • SACOG would make the determination of whether the project met federal air quality goals

Instead:

  • projects can be considered piecemeal
  • a specific project need not meet air quality goals as long as the overall program does
  • the Transportation Authority rather than SACOG will determine whether a project meets air quality goals

Why is this important?

The Capital Southeast Connector! The Capital Southeast Connector, at full build-out, would be an environmental disaster for the region. It will induce traffic, create more long distance commuters and further separation between housing and jobs, and very likely prevent the region from meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

How did it happen?

The language was changed at the Sacramento Transportation Authority board meeting on April 28. Region Business, which is a front group for greenfield developers, and California Alliance of Jobs, which represents employers who build roads, threatened board members with loss at the next election if they did not kowtow to the demands of the developers. This is not speculation: Kerri Howell, board chair, specifically said that the threat was made that candidates would be put up against her at the next election, and many other board members reported similar threats or nodded their heads in assent. And sadly, the board caved to these threats. After considerable non-public negotiation (the board members gather behind the dais), including discussion with the board members who had supported the original language and SACOG staff, compromise language was developed and passed, and is now part of Measure B ballot text.

What does it mean?

It means that Measure B has been tailored to the needs of greenfield developers. It was clear from the beginning that project allocations followed the old and discredited model of sprawl and cars-first development, but with this change it is now clear that Measure B will damage air quality in the region and prevent us from reaching greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Measure B moves forward

As was no surprise, the board of the Sacramento Transportation Authority passed the Transportation Expenditure Plan and related language yesterday afternoon. All of the public speakers were in favor of less for road expansion and more for transit, walking, and bicycling. The board seems to feel that gaining the votes of the suburbs is important to passing the ballot measure, but other than Steve Hansen, seemed to forget that without the votes of the urban core which favors multi-modal transportation, the measure also won’t pass. Nevertheless, the vote was not a surprise.

What was a complete surprise was the opposition of two organizations, Region Business, a front group for greenfield developers, represented by Robert Abelon, and California Alliance of Jobs, a promoter of highways, represented by Michael Quigley. They wanted removal of paragraph H from the implementation guidelines section of the measure. Paragraph H said:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure _ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase that must be included in a federally approved air quality conformity determination to either the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) shall have consistent project descriptions to the listing in the MTP & MTIP before the Authority allocates construction funding for the project phase.

Both lobbyists threatened to derail the measure if they didn’t get their way. Apparently they and their supporters had sent threatening emails to board members in the last hours before the meeting. Why are they opposed to paragraph H? They are strong defenders of the Capital Southeast Connector, and strong opponents of everything that SACOG does. SACOG is responsible for the MTP and MTIP, though it is composed of requests from the counties and cities which are seldom really questioned. Their strong opposition to paragraph H is an admission on their part that the connector, at least in its full buildout, could never meet air quality requirements, and so they want to eliminate any mention of air quality, the MTP, and the MTIP from the measure. Tom Zlotkowski, the Executive Director of the Capital Southeast Connector JPA (Joint Powers Authority), also objected, again, with the clear implication that the project could not go forward if air quality requirements were met.

The board, after well over an hour of discussion, and a long break to negotiate and regroup, decided with go with compromise language provided by SACOG counsel, Kirk Trost, and SACOG Director of Transportation Services, Matt Carpenter.

The substitute language is, in my opinion, significantly weaker and also vaguer. Not a good sign. Steve Hansen had earlier said that the existing paragraph H was part of the guarantee of accountability the authority was making with the public, and that not having a high level of accountability would result in a lower level of support at the ballot box. Yet, in the end, all board members except Roberta MacGlashan voted in favor of the TEP and language with the “compromise” change.

The new paragraph H says:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure _ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase shall not impair the ability of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) to meet federal air quality conformity, as determined by the Sacramento Transportation Authority Governing Board.

For all of you who may question or be opposed to the Capital Southeast Connector, I urge you to get in touch with your representatives to ask why a very narrow interest group was allowed to significantly weaken the measure by making threats.

An earlier post of mine: No to the Capital Southeast Connector

Measure B projects

So, where would the money from Measure B go? It is impossible to really say, as the current option Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) focuses more on government entities than types of projects. But here is a summary, with the TEP (SacTA_2016-04-28_agenda-item6-TEP) also available:

  • Citrus Heights: $117M, mostly fix-it-first and complete streets projects, mostly good
  • Elk Grove: $235M, fix-it-first, new and widened road, new interchange, mostly bad
  • Folsom: $115M, fix-it-first, two new interchanges, road widening, mostly bad
  • Galt: $36M, fix-it-first, new interchange, mostly bad
  • Isleton: $2M, fix-it-first, great
  • Rancho Cordova: $110M, fix-it-first, interchange, several widening, mostly bad
  • City of Sacramento: $683, fix-it-first, American River bridge, OK
  • County of Sacramento: $901M, fix-it-first, one interchange, several complete streets but many road capacity expansions, mostly bad
  • Capital City Freeway: $200M, all bad
  • Capital Southeast Connector: $125M, all bad
  • SacRT replacement and operations: $393M, mostly fix-it-first with low floor modern light rail cars, all good
  • SacRT new light rail: $180M, mixed bag, but issue not addressed is which routes should be extended and how far on what priority
  • SacRT Gold Line express: $20M, good
  • SacRT Blue Line to Elk Grove and SMART: $126, mostly good, but same issue as above with priorities
  • Paratransit: $126M, good, though needs to emphasize transport to transit rather than point to point

Notice that most of the items say fix-it-first as the first line item, however, there is language in the ballot measure that would allow all agencies to squirm out of that requirement if they so chose.

So, to reiterate and summarize these recent posts, I am not against a sales tax for transportation, but I am against the way funds have been allocated in the TEP, and the length of the tax measure. I probably will not have time for any more posts between now and the Thursday meeting of SacTA.

transportation funding “balance”

“We’re doing what we think is best … so we can actually get this done,” [Sacramento Transportation Authority Board Chair Kerri] Howell said. “If we don’t get it passed, no one gets anything.”

The Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA, as I call it, rather than STA, to distinguish it from the State Transportation Agency, or CalSTA) is claiming that their proposed Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) is balanced, and that it reflects the desire of the citizens as expressed through the survey that they conducted.

The proposal might be considered balanced if it were the only source of transportation funding, but it is not. There is funding from the federal government, the state, and the existing Sacramento County sales tax, Measure A. Most of this funding goes to building new roads and expanding existing roads. As examples, the recent major widening of Interstate 80, the “Across the Top” project, that added significant capacity to the freeway, and several new interchanges in the region have been added or are under construction. The I-80 project serves commuters from Roseville to downtown. It does nothing for freight traffic, for air quality, or for a multi-modal system. The interchanges serve new greenfield developments, not existing residential and commercial areas. Any tax measure that funds new roads cannot be called balanced, because it does not bring an overall balance. We still have a cars-first transportation network, and a cars-first funding mechanism. The only answer to this is #NoNewRoads.

The survey that SacTA performed showed that people overwhelmingly support fixing roads, which is called fix-it-first. I support that. Deteriorated roads serve no one. However, too often transportation agencies use fix-it-first as a cover for widened roads. The assumption is that if a road is too narrow, and/or is congested, then it needs to be “fixed” to be wider. An example is the Hazel Ave widening going on right now. More lanes, more traffic, more air pollution, less livability. While on one hand agencies are building “complete streets” with sidewalks and bike lanes, with the other hand they are increasing capacity for motor vehicles. Having a sidewalk and bike lane does not change a roadway from a cars-first, high speed, unfriendly status to a multi-modal, serves all users part of the transportation network.

What the survey did not do is ask questions such as “Given that almost all of your tax money is already going to new construction and widening roads, do you want us to spend new tax money on the same thing?” The answer from most people would have been no. Or, “Given that we have in the past neglected to maintain roads, do you want us to continue to build new roads that we don’t have the funds to maintain. (We’ll ask you for that money later)?” The answer would have been no. The survey did not ask “Given that the level of funding for transit is Sacramento is the lowest of any major county in California, do you wish us to continue to give transit less than it needs?” The answer would have been no.

The idea that if we don’t do this tax measure then we have nothing is pernicious. We have existing funding sources, and though those sources are declining somewhat and don’t meet the needs for maintenance, we do have the ability to operate our transportation system on them, if need be. This is the same story that we have been hearing for at least 20 years, and probably back to post World War II. That story is, if you give us free rein to spend most of the money on cars, we will give you some bread crumbs to keep you happy. Some transit. A tiny bit for walking and bicycling. In my opinion, it is time to just say no. This allocation has not only been unfair to transit users, walkers and bicyclists, it has been used to create transportation system that is actively hostile to those uses. Just say no. #NoNewRoads

Please understand that I am not against increased taxes for transportation. What I am for, strongly for, is a transportation system that servers all users in an equitable manner. We don’t have that today, and we can only reach that if we spend our tax funds on undoing the damage of the past, and making sure we do no damage in the future. #NoNewRoads

transportation sales tax decision tomorrow

A critical decision on whether to place a new sales tax measure for transportation on the November ballot will be made tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, by the Sacramento Transportation Authority. I ask that you attend and let the SacTA know what you think, and why. The meeting starts at 2:30PM in the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chambers at 700 H Street in Sacramento. The agenda and agenda packet are available at: http://www.sacta.org/c_calendar.html.

I’ve written in the past about transportation funding, and will provide you some more background information between now and tomorrow that may help you form a position on Measure B, but for right now, let me summarize what I see as the negatives.

  1. The 30-year measure is far too long. To say the we know today what the county will need in 30 years is simple hubris. Just today a different vision for the streetcar was released than one year ago. How can we know 30 years from now what we will need? Yet the Transportation Expenditure Plan associated with the ballot measure would lock in projects for 30 years.
  2. There is a claim that this measure is balanced, because it includes some projects for all the entities in the county, and provides some for fix-it-first, transit capital and operations, and walking and bicycling via complete streets projects. What is not mentioned by the measure supporters is that the majority of other transportation funding goes to building new roads, not to these things, so our funding pattern is already severely out of balance. Our taxes and fees have long gone to building new roads, and almost none to creating a transportation system that works for all. If this were the sole funding for transportation, the mix might make some sense, but given the overall funding picture, this measure would just continue the imbalance.
  3. The measure devotes significant funds to two new road projects, the Capital Southeast Connector and widening of the Capital City Freeway, as well as a number of smaller but expensive freeway interchanges. All of these have unacceptable impacts on greenhouse gas reduction because they will in fact increase vehicle miles driven (VMT) rather than reducing it. It is called induced demand, and it is a well known effect.
  4. Our roadways are in such horrible condition because transportation planners and engineers, and the politicians that support them, have continued to devote our transportation funds to building new roads rather than keeping the ones we have in repair. It is time now to spend every tax dollar that we spend on roads on fixing what we have, and not building yet more than we will fail to maintain.

More to come!