SACOG Board outcome

At the SACOG Board meeting this morning, the board passed the staff-recommended agreement that authorizes Executive Director James Corless to negotiate an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the transportation sales tax measure proponents and SacTA (Sacramento Transportation Authority) to include elements of the agreement in the MOU and in the ballot measure statement of support.

There was a lot of controversy over this issue, more than I have seen at any board meeting. Representatives of the other five counties (Yolo, Yuba, Sutter, Placer, El Dorado) and the cities within expressed great concerns about the agreement. Some voted no, some voted reluctantly yes, but there was no enthusiasm. The only really enthusiastic voice at all was from David Sander, representative of Rancho Cordova, who is also conveniently the board chair of the Capital Southeast Connector JPA. Even James Corless who supports the compromise expressed considerable discomfort that the agreement was even necessary to keep SACOG in the discussion.

The agreement implies that each new project (not in the current MTP/SCS) will have to completely mitigate all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the reduction. Left unanswered is how that can be accomplished. How can a project like the sprawl and VMT inducing Capital Southeast Connector be mitigated? Will the project fund all mitigation, or will the project proponents come back to SACOG or SacTA begging for funds for mitigation? Are all the other projects expected to pick up the slack in order to meet the required reduction in GHG? Will projects in the other five counties be expected to pick up the slack? Nothing in the agreement says the proponents of these capacity expansion projects will help to meet the regional target of 19% GHG reduction.

Don Saylor of Yolo County asked some very pointed and relevant questions of Corless and SACOG Counsel Kirk Trost. Trost confirmed that it is unlikely that any signatories to the MOU could be held legally accountable, that the MOU would be worthless if it continued the same vague language in the agreement, and that the whole thing was dependent on the good will of all the players. All players includes Sacramento County and each city in the county, and by implication, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. It is not at all clear whether they will all sign on, or that they will fulfill their agreement. The commitment to the 1970s model of transportation (the dark side), which the measure proposes to continue for 40 years, is very strong among many of the entities in the county, and it would not be surprising if some decided to back out on or just ignore the commitment to mitigating ALL GHG impacts of each project.

The original motion to adopt the agreement and delegate to Corless was modified to include a review (not approval) by the board chair and the chairs of the SACOG committees. A second motion to include formal representation on the review by the other five counties failed, but Corless promised to reach out to them.

Most board members just held their nose and voted yes.

My comments were directed at the mis-information that was being provided by signature gatherers, talking about fixing streets, support for bicycling, and “it’s all for transit”. There was never mention of freeways, interchanges, or capacity expansion, which is largely what the measure is really about. The measure proponents clearly intended to fool the public into signing by not telling the truth about the TEP (Transportation Expenditure Plan). Of course many ballot measures have the same dishonesty, but it is significant in this case because these are the people that Mayor Steinberg and Corless were negotiating with ‘in good faith’. There is no good faith with the proponents.

I think the transportation advocacy community can see a small victory here in that many people are now coming to understand how bad the proposed measure is and specifically how it will harm the region. And they saw today how the proponents intended to bully SACOG, in the measure language, and in this agreement. We lost on this particular vote, but board members can’t really deny anymore that the transportation future of the county and the region has been hijacked.

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

backroom deals on sales tax

Imagine, if you will, a backroom filled with cigar smoke, burley guys with prominent gun bulges around the edges, the sounds of illegal gambling games coming from the adjacent room, and the clink of bootleg whiskey bottles. Around the table sit power players, working out deals. Someone asks about the public, and one of the burley guys says “We took care of them”.

This is the picture I have of the just-released proposed agreement on the transportation sales tax measure being developed. Read the agreement: Mitigation Agreement, and the SACOG 2022-06-16 Agenda Item 13 Staff Report that introduces it. It is important to realize that this agreement was developed by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, SACOG Executive Director James Corless, and the proponents of the measure (called ‘The Campaign’ in the agreement). The proponents are named A Committee for a Better Sacramento, but their website tell the story: two mega-developers of greenfield (agricultural) lands, Cordova Hills Development Corporation and Angelo T. Tsakopoulos and Affiliated Entities, and the California Alliance for Jobs, an organization that supports large infrastructure projects on behalf of construction contractors (it is the contractors, not the workers who are represented). The proponents want the taxpayers to build them a freeway and interchanges to increase the value of their greenfield developments. The public was not involved. Actually, the SACOG Board of Directors was not really involved.

Before going into what is wrong with the agreement, a review of what happened at the last SACOG Board Meeting on May 19. Almost every representative from Sacramento county and cities badmouthed the SACOG study that revealed that the Capital Southeast Connector would likely cause the region to not meet its 19% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target, and therefore likely lose a significant amount of state and federal funding for transportation and housing. Several of them even questioned the honesty of the staff that wrote the study. It was a pretty horrible display of politicians saying they know more than professional staff. On the other hand, almost every representative of counties and cities in the region that are not in Sacramento County expressed concern about losing transportation and housing funding if the measure passes. James Corless listened to this, and decided an agreement that helps some select developers and some select projects, while harming the region, is the way to go.

So, the agreement. What is wrong with it?

  1. The agreement accepts that project proponents (cities and the counties, not measure proponents) can make a determination about whether their project meets air quality requirements. It encourages both projects and the overall program to meet SACOG requirements and inclusion in the MTP/SCS, but accepts that they may not. This will establish a precedent that will be used by project hosts and tax measure proponents from now on, to claim they don’t need to follow SACOG.
  2. The agreement proposes that SACOG undertake a study of the proposed measure to determine GHG/VMT impacts. This will be expensive, and the funds will come out of the Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) Measure A funds, meaning less money for other projects. This study would probably be a good idea, but it should have been done before the measure was written, not after. If this measure fails, as it should, advocates should demand that climate impact studies be done before the Transportation Expenditure Plan is completed, not after.
  3. The agreement also proposes a third party study, because, basically, the measure proponents don’t trust SACOG to kowtow to the party line. Who will this third party be? The agreement doesn’t say. Handpicked by the proponents? Handpicked by SacTA (current SacTA Executive Director Kevin Bewsey was formerly the Principal Civil Engineer for Sacramento County, hardly an unbiased role)? The agreement says, if the two studies don’t agree, we’ll talk about it. Hmm. More smokey back rooms.
  4. The agreement depends upon an ‘extra’ $510M in additional sales tax revenue for mitigation. What if sales tax remains flat, or decreases? What if construction and management cost go up at the same rate as the sales tax receipts, thereby eating up the excess? No mitigation, then? That is the implication.
  5. The agreement relies on the good will of the transportation agencies in the county (pretty please) to spend their extra sales tax revenue on mitigation: “…recipient agencies can pledge that the use of these additional funds be used first for GHG Mitigation.” Notice it doesn’t say must or will, just can. Citrus Heights, for example, which is much more likely to propose multi-modal transportation projects than other entities, will be asked to sacrifice sales tax revenue to mitigate the Connector and other capacity expansion projects, even though they won’t benefit from those. The same for the City of Sacramento, which makes it doubly disappointing to me that Mayor Steinberg is a party to this agreement.
  6. The agreement implies that the GHG/VMT generating projects can be mitigated sometime later: “Therein, there should be no net increase to regional GHG emissions after mitigation measures are complete.” It doesn’t say the mitigation needs to happen first, or at the same time as the project, just sometime within the 40 years. Ouch!
  7. An MOU is just a statement of intent, laying out what each party intends to do. It is not a contract, and is not legally binding. If one of the parties is unhappy with what the other parties have done, or not done, they can bring a civil suit, but they may not allege breach of contract, because it is not a contract.
  8. The agenda staff report says it is likely that the SACOG Blueprint will have to be delayed in order for staff to be shifted to the study. This is SACOG’s flagship product. Why in the world would it be delayed just to meet the needs of the transportation sales tax measure proponents? This is crazy.
  9. $100M out of City of Sacramento’s share of sales tax revenues would be added for the Mobility Center. Why? What does this have to do with the Capital Southeast Connector and other roadway capacity expansion projects? Are we going to mitigate all the bad things in the measure with a small investment in electric vehicles?

    The measure proponents are bullying SACOG. This was their intention, else why would they have removed the GHG/VMT climate protection language that was in the deferred 2020 measure? It is as though the school bully said “hand over your lunch money” and the victim counter-proposes an agreement to only give half of the lunch money, and agrees not to report the bully to the Principal (the Principal, in this case, being the public).

Please take a look at the SACOG Board page to see who your representatives are, and contact them about this agreement.

The SACOG Board Meeting is this Thursday, June 16, starting at 9:30AM, and this is agenda item 13. You can view the meeting at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82132538239. You can comment via Zoom, or by email or online or phone, or even in person. This is apparently the first in-person meeting of the board. See the agenda for details.

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

SACOG Board on sales tax analysis

The SACOG Board met today, and agenda item 12 was on the SACOG Review & Analysis of Proposed Citizens’ Transportation Tax Initiative in Sacramento County. This was an information item, for discussion, not for action. This post is a brief summary of the discussion, to follow on to the earlier post on the analysis: SACOG analysis of Measure 2022. The analysis identifies 26 (or more) capacity expansion projects proposed in the measure’s Transportation Expenditure Plan, all of which would increase GHG/VMT, and most of which would also increase sprawl.

Nearly every representative of the cities and counties in Sacramento County rejected the analysis as being flawed, some even said it was unprofessional. They claimed that the analysis made so many assumptions that it could not be trusted, and that SACOG should not be in the business of producing documents like this. Despite that fact that planning for transportation and land use is specifically the purview of the MPOs, and that they instead support a measure that speculates about transportation needs for 40 years into the future. If you don’t like the message, blame the messenger.

I can’t resist pointing out that this has become a pattern for supporters of more of the same (more capacity expansion, more sprawl, more GHG/VMT):

Supporters of sprawl and the measure proponents: Show us the data!

SACOG: Here is the data.

Supporters of sprawl and the measure proponents: No, not that data. We don’t believe you.

On the other hand, every representative from the other five counties in the SACOG region expressed great concern that allowing the measure to go through would threaten their own transportation projects and funding due to the region not meeting GHG reduction goal of 19%. Don Saylor of Yolo County was the most succinct, saying that SACOG must consider the impact on the region as a whole, and that it is time to move past the limited vision of the past.

The out-of-left-field part of the discussion was that Darrell Steinberg talked about an ongoing negotiation with the measure proponents that would mitigate for the worst aspects of the measure. This apparently has been going on for six weeks, and is the reason the release of the analysis was delayed, even though it was completed a month ago.

Darrell talked about five elements of the negotiation (this is captured from his verbal report, and may not be accurate, no printed information was offered):

  • $300M in the measure for the connector would be contingent upon SACOG defining mitigation measures, and that the Capital Southeast Connector JPA accepted the mitigation.
  • SACOG would develop a scenario in the currently developing MTP/SCS that includes the connector.
  • SACOG would commit to putting the connector in the MTP if these other conditions where met.
  • An additional $300M would be provided for connector mitigation in the measure.
  • $100M will be added to the California Mobility Center, diverted from other projects.

It looks as though Steinberg is putting the onus on SACOG, not on the proponents. It is true that none of the government entities have any control over the measure, but if negotiations are going on, it should be from a position of strength, not weakness. If the City of Sacramento opposed the measure, it is very unlikely that it would pass.

The proponents intended to bully the agencies into supporting it, and to make sure that they got their message across, removed the climate protection language from the measure. They want the agencies to make their own decisions about whether and how to mitigate climate impacts, regardless of regional interests or the intent of the state legislature, or even the interests of the counties that would be impacted.

To my knowledge, no opponents of the measure, of which there are many, the majority of the transit, transportation, and environmental advocacy organizations, were asked to participate in the negotiations. Yet another example of excluding public engagement, just as the people who wrote the measure excluded public engagement.

SACOG said that the analysis would be presented to the various SACOG committees, and would come back to the board in June. It isn’t clear to me what, if anything will happen at that point. I assume the negotiations will have completed by then, successfully or unsuccessfully. It isn’t clear what kind of agreement could be reached that would actually be binding on Sacramento Transportation Authority and the other governments, since a measure, if passed and not found unconstitutional, has the force of law. Maybe there is a way.

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

SACOG analysis of Measure 2022

SACOG has released a blockbuster analysis on the effects of the proposed transportation sales tax measure that may be on the ballot in November 2022. The report is extensive, 88 pages. The SACOG Board agenda for 2022-05-19, item 12: SACOG Review & Analysis of Proposed Citizens’ Transportation Tax Initiative in Sacramento County is available here; the entire agenda packet is available on the SACOG website, but is quite large. I will be creating a number of posts on this analysis, but to start, here are two key quotes:

SACOG’s analysis of the proposed transportation tax initiative in Sacramento County projects the region would likely fall short of meeting its state-mandated 19 percent per capita greenhouse gas reduction target by nearly 2 percent. This would jeopardize the region’s ability to compete for state transportation and housing funding programs. The analysis shows that the potential impacts from this revised 2022 initiative are indeed significant enough that the region and decisionmakers should take the time to understand and weigh the potential benefits of the transportation investments against the risks of failing to meet the region’s GHG target.

SACOG Review, page 7

* The 26 known capacity expanding projects in the measure would substantially increase per capita GHG emissions, threatening the region’s ability to meet its 2035 GHG target. This conclusion results from the impact of the transportation facilities themselves, and from the impact additional transportation capacity would have on the location of new housing and employment development, substantially altering the region’s land use forecast and travel patterns and increasing per capita VMT.

* As a result, while the region’s 2020 MTP/SCS succeeded in meeting the per capita GHG emissions reduction target—19% from 2005 to 2035—the analysis shows that the initiative’s capacity projects would erode the region’s performance by nearly 2%; adding the capacity projects to the 2020 MTP/SCS would achieve an overall reduction of per capita GHG of less than 17% by the target year.

* The transit expansion projects in the initiative did not offset the impact of the initiative’s roadway capacity expanding projects enough to help the region meet its GHG emissions reduction target.

SACOG Review, page 5

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

a safe and effective transportation system

Many organizations and individuals are deciding to oppose the transportation sales tax measure being proposed for the November 2022 ballot in Sacramento County. The reasons for opposition are many, but previous posts here (Measure 2022) cover significant ones. If the measure does not qualify for the ballot, or does qualify and fails, what then are we to do for transportation? Below are some ideas for a safe and effective transportation system. They are not yet well organized or prioritized.

I acknowledge the contribution of Walkable City Rules by Jeff Speck to this list. If you haven’t read it, please do. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it is the best prescription for correcting our transportation system and healing our cities that I know of. See also Measure 2022: the path not taken.

The realities of climate change and social justice demand a radical redesign of our existing transportation system and radical shift in transportation policies and investments. More of the same, with slight improvements, as the sales tax measure suggests, will not serve our needs now or in the future. See also our racist and classist transportation system.

General

  • all projects must contribute to or be neutral in reaching regional (SACOG) and state goals for reducing VMT and GHG (vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions)
  • travel modes will be prioritized as: 1) active transportation (walking and bicycling), 2) transit, and 3) motor vehicles

Equity

  • sales taxes are regressive, and will not be the default mechanism for funding transportation projects
  • travel needs of people who don’t or can’t drive (children, elderly, disabled, choice) will receive at least the same concern and investment as those who do drive
  • at least 60% of transportation investments must serve formerly underinvested communities
  • transportation projects will be selected and designed to meet community needs previously expressed through community engagement; projects will not be selected by transportation agencies or employees
  • anti-displacement measures will be included in all transportation projects
  • no investments will be made in transitioning motor vehicles from fossil fuels to electric or hydrogen, except where formerly underinvested communities need supporting infrastructure; transitioning vehicles away from fossil fuels merely maintains motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system
  • all projects over $10M will require a health impact analysis
  • agencies will educate the public about H+T (housing and transportation) costs as a measure of housing affordability

Policies

  • roadways will be maintained in a state of good repair to serve all travel modes
  • transportation planning will be integrated with land use planning
  • only agencies that acknowledge and plan around induced travel demand will receive transportation funding
  • all transportation agencies must implement a robust complete streets policy which includes frequent, safe crossings of roadways and speed reductions
  • congestion pricing will be considered as a solution in all dense urban areas, to reduce motor vehicle travel and to fund transportation projects; pricing will be based at least in part on vehicle weight, value or emissions
  • cities and counties will not accept responsibility for maintaining local roadways in new developments; therefore, new development must establish reserve accounts to cover ongoing maintenance

Vision Zero

  • all transportation agencies must establish and implement Vision Zero policies in which redesign of roadways is a preferred action
  • at least 25% of transportation funds must be spent on Vision Zero projects
  • all roadway fatalities will be analyzed using a safe systems approach, with required change to the roadway design or use to prevent future fatalities

Roadway Design

  • implement 10-foot or less travel lanes whenever a roadway is repaved; remove striping from local streets
  • all new developments will require a grid street system of one-eighth mile so that the need for arterials and collectors is reduced
  • consider all right-turn-only and left-turn-only lanes for elimination
  • eliminate slip lanes everywhere
  • require signal cycles to be 90 seconds or less
  • eliminate level-of-service (LOS) in transportation planning
  • conversions of one-way streets to two-way streets will be funded; one-way one-lane streets will be considered an acceptable design for local streets and central cities
  • overly wide roadways will be reduced, with unneeded right-of-way returned to adjacent property owners or sold for infill housing
  • rougher pavements such as brick will be considered whenever slower traffic speeds are desired (but crosswalks will be smoother than the pavement)

Traffic Enforcement

  • wherever possible, automated enforcement will be used to enforce vehicle code that protects vulnerable users, rather than direct enforcement by law enforcement officers
  • violations which to do not threaten the safety of other roadway users will be de-prioritized or removed, with reduced fees if maintained
  • temporary or permanent vehicle confiscation will be used for egregious violators of vehicle codes
  • cities and county shall have the authority to do city-wide and county-wide reductions of posted speed limits, with or without corresponding changes to roadway design; redesign is of course preferred

Parking

  • all on-street motor vehicle parking in urban areas will be charged, either through curb metering or though flat fees
  • parking fees will be used to:
    • cover the cost of providing on-street parking construction and maintenance, and parking enforcement
    • improve transportation and economic vitality within the neighborhood that generates them, and therefore will not go into the general fund
  • parking minimums will be eliminated
  • de-couple parking from rent so that car-free renters are not subsidizing renters with cars
  • parking will be managed to maintain a level of availability on every block (similar to the Shoup 85% rule)
  • removal of on-street parking for higher uses such as active transportation, dining, and community spaces will be supported; however, removal of a travel lane rather than removal of parking is preferred
  • remove parking upstream of intersection corners to ensure visibility (daylighting); not needed when curb extensions provide the visibility
  • parking lanes/areas will be maintained to a reduced and less expensive level than roadways

Freeways

  • freeway removal, reduction, or decking will be considered for all freeways
  • new interchanges must be 100% paid for by private development
  • in urban areas, reconnect street networks over or under freeways at no less than one-half mile intervals, and provide pedestrian and bicyclist connections at no less than one-quarter mile intervals
  • managed lanes must be converted from general purpose lanes, not created through capacity expansion

Transit

  • transit performance measures will be developed, with a tentative goal that 80% of the population is served by 15 minute or better frequency bus or rail service, within one-half mile, for at least 15 hours per day on weekdays and 12 hours per day on weekends
  • transit will not be used as a mitigation for roadway expansion or induced motor vehicle travel; transit is a desirable mode in and of itself
  • transit will be funded to at least the equivalent of one-half cent of sales tax
  • dedicated bus lanes or bus rapid transit (BRT) design will be implemented on all high ridership bus routes
  • transit agencies will have flexibility to allocate funds between capital, maintenance, and operations, based on established criteria
  • metered freeway on-ramps serving four or more regular (non-commute) buses per hour will have bus bypass lanes

Sidewalks and Crosswalks

  • sidewalks will be considered an integral part of the transportation network, and therefore maintained by transportation agencies rather than property owners, except where trees or work on private property impacts the sidewalk; buffer strips in which trees are planted will be considered public responsibility
  • sidewalk infill will be considered a primary use of transportation funds, with at least 60% going to formerly underinvested neighborhoods
  • sidewalks with driveway ramps that slope the sidewalk crosswise will be replaced with continuous flat sidewalks, or the driveway eliminated
  • all traffic signals that have a pedestrian signal head will be programmed with a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) of at least 3 seconds
  • required pedestrian-activation will be eliminated (buttons to trigger audible information are acceptable); pedestrian auto-detection will be considered
  • raised crosswalks or raised intersections will be the default design for all reconstructed intersections
  • all crosswalks will be marked, with the possible exception of purely residential areas
  • pedestrian crossing prohibitions will be analyzed and eliminated where not strictly necessary for safety
  • curb extensions, the width of parking lanes and designed to not interfere with bicycling, will be installed whenever intersections are modified or reconstructed

Bicycle Facilities

  • bike facilities on any roadway with a posted speed limit over 30mph must be separated (protected) bikeways
  • bike facilities on any roadway with a posted speed limit over 40 mph must be separated from the roadway
  • roadway design will be used to make bicycle facilities unnecessary on low speed streets
  • design and implement low-stress bicycle networks
  • prioritize filling gaps in the bicycle network
  • re-stripe or re-design roadways so that bike lanes or separated bikeways are not dropped at intersections
  • bike share, and possibly scooter share, will be supported with transportation funds
  • secure, on-demand bicycle parking will be provided at common destinations; bicycle racks will be provided at common destinations and on every block in urbanized areas

Schools

  • school districts will have the authority to close roadways fronting the main entrance to a school, during arrival and dismissal times, in order to increase student safety and protection from air pollutants
  • Safe Routes to School programs or similar will be supported by transportation funds at the local level
  • school districts will be prohibited from building new schools at locations which are not easily accessible via active transportation or transit
  • school districts will prioritize neighborhood schools over magnet schools, in order to reduce travel
  • school districts will develop policies that allow neighborhood schools to remain open under declining enrollment
  • school districts will be responsible for the same transportation demand management requirements placed on any other entity

Thank you if you read all the way through. I realize some of these are radical ideas, but radical ideas make space for more reasonable ideas provided by others. That is part of the purpose of this blog.