Measure 2022: SacTA buys in

The Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax (Measure 2022) by the Committee for a Better Sacramento came before the Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) last week, 2022-07-27.

Agenda item 6 was to have the authority accept responsibility for implementing the measure if it passes in November. This item did not generate much discussion, and passed unanimously. I will note that the measure sets up a gotcha that will be very difficult for the authority to work through – it basically says that if a project sponsor claims that a project meets air quality criteria, they do not have to prove that it does, and may proceed to spend tax funds on it, no matter what anyone else says. Not only will this likely make it impossible for the SACOG region to meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target of 19% set by the state, but likely make it imperative that other projects both in Sacramento county and the other five counties in the SACOG region make up for (mitigate) the GHGs generated by the project. This is largely about the Capital Southeast Connector, but applies to every capacity expansion project in the measure.

Agenda item 7 (presentation), to direct the SacTA Executive Director to negotiate an memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SACOG that would set us criteria for having SACOG review the GHG impact of the entire measure, using SacTA funds (presumably Measure A funds, since tax collection would not start until January 1 if the measure passes). A review would also be done by a third party, not specified in the MOU, but likely a consultant more amenable to discounting the GHG contribution of roadway expansion projects. SacTA or the third party may challenge the SACOG analysis, but the MOU doesn’t make clear what happens then. It is worth noting the several SACOG board members, particularly David Sander of Rancho Cordova, who is also, conveniently, on the board of the Capital Southeast Connector JPA, said the the SACOG analysis of the impact of the connector on GHG and the likely failure to meet the target, was so flawed that it should be discarded. Several board members accused SACOG staff of lying. I assume that the new review of the Transportation Expenditure Plan will be challenged in the same way, by the same people. It is likely that the measure, and the MOU, and the signing agencies will end up in court.

There was considerably more discussion on item 7. It passed, but with three no votes and one abstention (of the sixteen votes on the board, some of whom were absent).

The MOU is only between SacTA and SACOG. It does not include the Capital Southeast Connector JPA, nor the tax measure proponents (the greenfield developers), nor the county, nor any of the cities, nor the other five counties. So it is not legally binding on anyone beyond SacTA and SACOG. That means that the connector JPA can do what it wants to do, which is to avoid responsibility for GHG emissions.

There was an earlier promise that there would be ballot language in the pro argument that explained the MOU and what it would accomplish, but it is not clear that this is any longer on the table. The MOU itself is far longer than could be included, so if there is anything there at all, it would be a summary, and would be written by the measure proponents, hardly an unbiased source.

I will repeat that it was the specific intention of the measure proponents to bully SACOG and SacTA into supporting the measure and specifically excepting GHG-inducing roadway capacity expansion projects from air quality review. The intentional removal of the GHG language from the 2020 version of the measure (which was withdrawn before going on the ballot) makes this absolutely clear. The claim by many politicians that the measure proponents think that the MOU clarifies that the intent was not to violate GHG goals is laughable. They intended to bully, and they succeeded.

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this name and 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. Sacramento County Elections has verified signatures for the measure, but has not assigned a measure letter.

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.

Measure 2022: transit congestion improvement???


A group calling themselves A Committee for a Better Sacramento is sponsoring a citizen-initiated ballot measure for the November election, titled “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax”. (Note: Some people are referring to this as Measure A, but measure letters are assigned by county elections, not by the sponsors. I’ll continue to refer to it as Measure 2022, for now.)

One of the categories in the Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan is Congestion Relief Improvements (page A-16), and the subcategory Transit and Rail Congestion Relief Improvement Projects, which is allocated 10.85% of the measure, or about $890M over the 40 years. Projects listed are (they are not numbered in the document, but are here for reference):

  1. LRT peak service trains
  2. LRT extensions, Green Line to the airport, Blue Line to Elk Grove and Citrus Heights, Gold Line to Folsom
  3. High capacity bus corridor network throughout Sacramento County, including but not limited to Stockton Blvd, Watt Ave, Sunrise Blvd, Florin Rd, and Arden Way
  4. BRT to Citrus Heights, Stockton Blvd, and Sunrise in Rancho Cordova
  5. In coordination with the Capital Southeast Connector Joint Powers Authority, design, plan and construct a transit component, such as a bus rapid transit service, along the Capital Southeast Connector corridor to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and meet air quality targets. SacRT will match $40 million in revenues generated by this Measure with $80 million in state and federal funds for a total of $120 million in resources toward this goal. The project would consist of providing signaling and a bypass at critical connector sections to improve service, lower travel time, and reduce GHG impacts

The document does say that funding is ‘intended to be flexible’, which is good since the types of projects that might be constructed over 40 years will likely have little to do with this list. None of this funding is available for operations, which is in a different category, Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) Maintenance, Operations, and Transformative System Improvements. More about that soon.

Light rail extensions and improvements for more frequent peak service (not for operating more frequent peak service, just for the infrastructure) sound appealing (items 1 and 2). Currently SacRT has unofficially prioritized Green Line to the airport, even though that would do almost nothing to reduce congestion. Infrastructure for Gold Line to Folsom is already funded, so it is strange to see it here. On the other hand, Blue Line to Citrus Heights is here, even though SacRT has removed it from consideration for the foreseeable future.

The terms ‘high capacity bus corridor network’ and ‘BRT’ (items 3 and 4) are not defined in the document, so the public really has little idea what is intended. SacRT has not been very clear about this either. Projects in other places have revealed that the quality of the improvements to a corridor, and the restraints placed on private vehicle travel, make all the difference in whether bus corridor enhancements are valuable or pointless.

The $40M for the Capital Southeast Connector (item 5) is small in comparison to the size of the allocation, but it points out how poorly thought out the entire measure is. Who would even use transit on this corridor? The connector is designed to serve commercial traffic between Folsom (really El Dorado County) and Elk Grove, and to promote greenfield development along the connector. Greenfield developments are not designed to appeal low income workers, they are designed to appeal to high income white collar workers, who might be commuting to Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and Elk Grove. But those are not the sort of people who use transit unless it is clearly superior to drive-alone, and transit on this soon-to-be-congested corridor will not make the grade.

All of these projects are premised on the idea that the other projects in the measure will maintain or increase congestion, so it is necessary to improve transit to mitigate for that other congestion. Sadly, the SACOG MTP/SCS makes the same assumption, that transit projects will counteract the increased VMT and GHG emissions from other projects and poor land use.

Transit should not be a mitigation; it should have standing in its own right as a superior mode of travel. It should not be an attempt to make up for bad decisions made elsewhere. The question should be: what can we do to better serve existing riders, and what can we do to induce new riders?

This section of the Transportation Expenditure Plan is so-so. Not bad, not good, but mostly not well thought out and not clear what the benefits and trade-offs will be.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Measure 2022: Southeast Connector exceptionalism

A group calling themselves A Committee for a Better Sacramento is sponsoring a citizen-initiated ballot measure for the November election, titled “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax”. (Note: Some people are referring to this as Measure A, but measure letters are assigned by county elections, not by the sponsors. I’ll continue to refer to it as Measure 2022, for now.)

One of the major projects in the measure is the Capital Southeast Connector, a new freeway from Folsom to Elk Grove. Future posts will talk about what a bad transportation idea this is, but for now, what a bad part of the measure it is.

The measure essentially makes the Capital Southeast Connector JPA the judge of whether the project meets air quality requirements – the fox watching the henhouse. It is somewhat obscure what the language means, and takes a close reading, but the gist is that if the project fails to meet air quality requirements and therefore is not included on the project list in the MTP (SACOG Metropolitan Transportation Plan), the JPA can go its own way and decide for itself that the project meets requirements.

K. Metropolitan Transportation Plan & GHG Reduction Targets. The Sacramento region Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP) currently requires that the region meet a 19% per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target. Expenditure Plan projects that are planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, shall be eligible for Measure funds. Expenditure Plan projects not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP shall be eligible for Measure funds if the construction phase of the project is exempt from project-level and regional level air quality conformity.

For any non-exempt projects that are not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, the following requirements will apply:

For any non-exempt projects that are not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, the following requirements will apply:

1. In order to meet the then applicable regional GHG reduction target for the MTP, project sponsors (parties) shall develop mitigation measures for any project(s) that increases GHG emissions.

2. If the parties can mitigate any such project impacts to maintain adherence to the then applicable regional GHG reduction target, the project(s) shall be eligible for Measure funds.

3. If the GHG impacts are not mitigated to meet the region’s then applicable GHG reduction target, and as a result the region cannot meet its applicable GHG target, the funds planned for the non-exempt project(s) may be used by the corresponding Implementing Agency at their discretion, for other than the originally intended project(s), provided any alternative project(s) are consistent with the Expenditure Plan and included in an MTP, as may be amended from time to time, that meets the then applicable target. Per above, alternative project(s) not planned or programmed for construction in an MTP shall be eligible for Measure funds if the construction phase of the project(s) is exempt from project-level and regional-level air quality conformity.

Measure 2022, Exhibit A, Chapter 1, Section K

This treatment of the JPA might very likely be found to be unconstitutional, but the measure proponents have thought of that too:

If any portion of this Measure is held by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid, we the People of the Sacramento Transportation Authority indicate our strong desire that: (i) the Authority use its best efforts to sustain and re-enact that portion, and (ii) the Authority implement this Measure by taking all steps possible to cure any inadequacies or deficiencies identified by the court in a manner consistent with the express and implied intent of this Measure, including, to the extent permitted by law, adopting or reenacting any such portion in a manner consistent with this Measure.

Section XII, Paragraph B, of the potential measure

In other words, if we, the sponsors included something illegal or unconstitutional in this measure, we expect the Sacramento Transportation Authority to defend the measure and make sure it all gets implemented.

To mitigate the immense GHG/VMT (greenhouse gas emissions / vehicle miles traveled) generated by the Connector, the measure proposes Transit and Rail Congestion Improvement Projects. With somewhat less money allocated to this than the Connector, these expenditures might make up for the harm of the Connector, but would not address any other needs in the county. It also proposes BRT features for the Connector, which is ridiculous as this is the last place in the county that a transit agency would propose BRT.

If the Connector, as a whole or in the piecemeal projects by which is has already been partially constructed, causes the region to not meet its legally required greenhouse gas reduction target of 19%, the entire region would therefore be under non-compliance, and therefore ineligible for federal grants.

The proponents see the value of the Connector as enabling greenfield development in the southeast area of the county. Though touted as a solution to congestion on Hwy 50 and Hwy 99, it will not be. What it will do is encourage long distance commuting between El Dorado County and Elk Grove, and generate VMT trips due to the greenfield developments along the corridor. The Connector will not turn out to be a boon to Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and Elk Grove, but yet another congested highway, sucking value away from the cities and citizens.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

SB1 Local Partnership Program applications

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) yesterday released the list of applications for the Local Partnership Program (LPP) which is one of many programs in SB 1, the transportation bill. The SACOG projects have been selected and are below (with pdf link).

Though these are just applications, and the process of selecting and awarding projects will take many months, it is instructive to take a look at what has been submitted by the transportation agencies in the region.

The list has zero transit projects. Though there are separate programs fo transit, nothings prohibits transit projects, but the agencies were not interested.

Four of the projects are Capital Southeast Connector related (Grant Line Road Operational Improvements Project, White Rock Road Four and Two Lane Improvements, White Rock Road Two Lane Improvements, and of course Capital SouthEast Connector Expressway), which total $40M out of the list total of $88M. This sprawl-inducing gift to greenfield developers has been criticized here and many other places, cannot comply with the air quality and VMT reduction goals of the regional sustainable communities strategy (if was grandfathered in), yet accounts for 45% of all applications.

Of the remaining projects, $27M, 31%, are mostly road widening projects. 24% of the projects have at least a minor component of bicyclist or pedestrian benefit, such as complete streets projects, and a few are primarily for active transportation.

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

No to the southeast connector

In response to the Viewpoint: Sacramento County Needs SouthEast Connector by Roberta MacGlashan and Steve Miklos in the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday:

ConnectorClientMap2bThe southeast connector is a 1970s solution to modern transportation questions. It is based on the model of people living a long way from where they work, and commuting long distances, for example, from El Dorado Hills to Elk Grove. Many people are looking now for a different way to live, with home, work, shopping and cultural amenities all close to each other. They are looking for transportation alternatives, which are scarce in the Sacramento region.

The southeast connector will also produce sprawl all along the corridor. Even before the project is scheduled for construction, developers are wanting to turn agricultural land into yet another subdivision. Cordova Hills is just one example. The Sacramento region already has an oversupply of suburban housing and suburban office parks; we don’t need any more. Some people will continue to choose suburban living and long commutes, but the question is why the rest of us would want to subsidize that choice to the tune of $456M dollars.

The Sacramento region certainly needs transportation infrastructure, and some small part of that infrastructure might be new roads, but what we really need to meet the demands of people for livable places and a vibrant economy is alternatives to single occupant cars. We need a more extensive light rail system, a bus network that serves more people, frequent Amtrak service, and streets that are safe and welcoming for bicyclists and pedestrians. We won’t get that if we spend huge sums on the connector.

We know that freeways such as the connector do not reduce fuel consumption or air pollution. Instead, they induce more driving and increase both. If you don’t believe that freeways induce traffic, just look at Interstate 80. It has been under an almost continuous process of expansion, yet it is always congested, and the new construction underway will be full as soon as it is finished. The economic and freight needs of Interstate 80 could be met by a four-lane freeway. The other lanes are there for commuters. I don’t accept long-distance commuting as an economic benefit, in fact it is quite otherwise.

Though the viewpoint talks about $456M as being the “total cost,” it is only just the beginning. There will be interchanges and widening and enhancements, costing in total many times as much. It would be better to cancel the project right now and re-think the transportation network we need in the Sacramento region.

Capital SouthEast Connector JPA website

No to Cordova Hills

“Previous sprawl has sent Fresno to the edge of bankruptcy.” – Keith Bergthold , City of Fresno Planning and Development, at the Partnering with K-12 Education in Building Healthy, Sustainable & Competitive Regions, 2012-12-06

The Cordova Hills development is on the agenda for the Sacramento Board of Supervisors on this Wednesday, December 12. The meeting starts at 2:30 pm in the county board chambers at 700 H St in Sacramento.

I hope that a many people will attend and protest this development. This is sprawl of the worst kind. Not only is it beyond all developed areas, it is even beyond the county’s generous growth boundary. With no significant employment opportunities within or near the development, people would be commuting long distances to work in Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, and Roseville. More vehicle miles, more air pollution, more climate change, more taxes required to maintain infrastructure. Less community cohesiveness, less time, less open space.

Continue reading “No to Cordova Hills”