Measure A, Not OK

A committee of transportation and equity advocates have come together to oppose the Sacramento County Measure A transportation sales tax measure. Measure A, Not OK!

The new website is https://measureanotok.org. The home page identifies the measure proponents, which are greenfield developers (greenfields are former agricultural and open space lands which these developers want to convert to low density housing) and representatives of large construction companies who will profit from the unnecessary large infrastructure projects the measure proposes. It also addresses six of the worst aspects of the measure. A list of organizations and individuals against the measure is also available, 25 and growing.

The new Twitter handle is @MeasureANotOK. No tweets yet, but there will be soon.

If you want to catch up on all the reasons to vote NO on Measure A in November, please take a look at the posts here: https://gettingaroundsac.blog/category/transportation-funding/measure-a-2022/
and
https://star-transit.org/category/transportation-funding/measure-a-2022/ (for more transit-specific information).

Both of these blogs will provide additional information. If you have issues you would like addressed, questions about the details of the measure including the Transportation Expenditure Plan, or proponent arguments you’ve heard, please reply.

real transportation solutions

Measure A 2022, which will be on the ballot this November, is a bundle of old ideas and a commitment to doing things the old way, the way that has dominated our transportation system since World War II. It does not address current transportation challenges. It proposes building more freeways, more interchanges, and widening roadways. It proposes to continue and increase the motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system. Sure, there is a weak commitment to fix-it-first, for the first five years of the 40 years. Sure, there are some complete streets, but that won’t make a dent in the pedestrian and bicyclist-hostile roadways that traffic engineers have built for us.

When Measure A fails, we have a chance in Sacramento County to identify and implement progressive and effective transportation projects and systems. What would a better transportation system look like?

  • One not so dependent on sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive – low income people spend a much higher percentage of income on sales tax than do higher income people. Property taxes and congestion charges are a much fairer way to fund transportation. We have been too dependent on sales tax, for not just transportation, but many government functions.
  • One that recognizes and works to overcome the disinvestment that low income and high minority communities have suffered. Our transportation system is largely designed to ease the commutes and travel of high income individuals, not of society as a whole. The light rail system was designed with the needs of suburban, largely white commuters. So too were our freeways. At least 70% of transportation expenditures should be in and for the benefit of disinvested communities.
  • We have all the lane miles and pavement we will ever need. It is time to stop adding lanes miles and stop adding pavement. Not just because of the climate implications, but because these are low-return investments. Instead, transportation expenditures should support walking, bicycling and transit.
  • Big transportation projects such as freeways and interchanges claim big job benefits, but they are in fact much less efficient at generating high paying jobs than many other types of infrastructure investments. New construction spends most of its funds on materials, not on labor. The construction companies make large profits on large projects, but little of that filters down to workers. Small to moderate projects would employ many more people.
  • A transportation system dependent on motor vehicles, whether they are fossil fueled or electric, has strongly negative impacts on our places: direct air pollution, tire dust pollution, noise, traffic violence, loss of land to parking and roadways rather than productive development, and probably most important, it intimidates people out of walking and bicycling. A transportation system based on walking, bicycling, and transit eliminates most of these negatives.
  • A car dominated transportation system pushes everything further apart, jobs and housing and shopping and medical far away from each other. Cars not only encourage but largely demand low density development, so that there is space reserved for cars, all the parking and roadways that take up a large portion of our cities. It requires a car to participate in society, and thereby requires low income people to expend an unsustainable percentage of their income on transportation. A transportation system that relies much more on walking and bicycling allows things to be closer together, so that cars are not necessary for most daily travel.
  • Transportation investment should depend much less on state and federal funding, and much more on local funding. Large portions of the Measure A funds are intended to be matches for grants. But grants cause planners to focus on what the state and the federal government want, not on what the county or cities need. When the income from taxes or fees is close to the people, the solutions are much more likely to be what is desired by the people.
  • Private vehicle travel does little to contribute to making our places and our lives better. A innovative transportation system would focus on access to services, and make those services available nearby. It would reduce vehicle miles traveled, both by changing our development pattern and by actively working to reduce motor vehicle travel.
  • Our current transportation system has destroyed a lot of natural and agricultural lands, paving it over with roadways and low density housing. The best way of preserving nature and agriculture is to focus our attention and our funding on already higher density areas, which means infill.
  • None of the projects in Measure A are designed to support infill development. A progressive transportation system would focus nearly all investment on infill areas. It would cost much less money, and be much more productive.
  • Measure A calls out and essentially requires completion of the Green Line light rail to the airport. But who will use it? Unless service hours are 24 hours a day, it won’t be usable for many of the airport workers, who work before and after peak travel times. Instead, it may become yet another very expensive service for high-income travelers, just like our freeways system. Instead, we need to rethink our transit system to determine what citizens want and will use, and build a more efficient system around that. We know that frequency is freedom, so we must shift spending towards that, even while maintaining a reasonable level of areal coverage.

I’m sure you can think of many other things that an innovative, equitable transportation system would accomplish. Please suggest!

Measure A fix-it-first for only five years

From the Measure A 2022 transportation sales tax measure, Implementation Guidelines, paragraph F: ““Fix It First” Investment Priority for Years 1-5. With the exception of Caltrans and the Capital Southeast Connector Joint Powers Authority, Authority allocations for the first five years following implementation of this Measure shall prioritize “Fix It First” road, transit, safety, bicycle, and pedestrian investments.”

For the first five years of the measure, if it passes, the county and cities will be obligated to prioritize (that word is not defined) fix-it-first, which most people think of as fix-my-potholed street. What about the other 35 years of the measure? The agencies can then go back to what they have been doing all along, which is de-prioritizing maintenance in favor of building new stuff. Potholes in your street? Broken sidewalks? Sorry, we are going to spend the bulk of your tax dollars on building new stuff.

A measure that really cared about the quality of our transportation network would prioritize a state of good repair, not just for five years, but always. Of course traffic engineers know that is not possible. We have already built more than we can possibly maintain. But rather than being honest about that, the county and cities have adopted a policy of full-speed-ahead with new stuff – more freeways, more interchanges, more pavement.

Note also that Caltrans projects and the Capital Southeast Connector are exempted from even that meek requirement.

housing plus transportation affordable

I have mentioned the concept of H+T, housing plus transportation, in previous posts, but not focused on it. H+T is a concept developed by Congress for a New Urbanism’s Center for Neighborhood Technology. The Affordability Index concept is explained as:

“The H+T® Index provides a more complete measure of affordability.

By taking into account the cost of housing as well as the cost of transportation, H+T provides a more comprehensive understanding of the affordability of place.

Dividing these costs by the representative income illustrates the cost burden of housing and transportation expenses placed on a typical household.

While housing alone is traditionally deemed affordable when consuming no more than 30% of income, the H+T Index incorporates transportation costs—usually a household’s second-largest expense—to show that location-efficient places can be more livable and affordable.”

The traditional way of finding ‘affordable’ housing, for those able to, is to ‘drive until you qualify’. The further away from the core city, the less expensive housing becomes, because the cost of land is lower, and the level of subsidy for development is higher. Of course there are exceptions – think Granite Bay, the most expensive and highest income area in the region. But with lower housing costs come higher transportation costs. In fact, it is almost an inverse relationship. The longer travel distances and the lack of choice of modes – driving becomes the only choice – eat up savings from less expensive housing.

For Sacramento County, the map of H+T is below. The fact sheet for Sacramento County is here. In general, the affordable areas (light color) are downtown, Stockton Blvd (with SacRT bus route 51), Interstate 80 east (with SacRT light rail Blue Line and bus route 1). Overall for the county, 52% of income is spent on housing plus transportation, with 29% being housing and 23% being transportation. That is a remarkably high transportation component. Why? Because Sacramento County is so spread our, vast areas of low density housing, and undeveloped land (that used to be agricultural land) that has been leapfrogged over by developers seeking even less expensive land to develop. If time allows, I will use the H+T data to overlay with the transit system and pin down better the relationship between transit and transportation costs. But for now, you can clearly see there is a relationship.

Why is H+T so important, at this point in time? Because the proposed transportation sales tax for Sacramento County, Measure A, focuses mostly on the old model of transportation, where freeways and arterials provide fast travel to far flung developments. The banner project in the measure is the Capital Southeast Connector, which comes nowhere close to the capital, in fact avoids the city of Sacramento and will provide no benefit to the city. See all the high transportation cost areas, the darker blue? The measure envisions more and more of those, places where the housing might be relatively affordable, but transportation costs are back-breaking. The measure wants to build more freeways and interchanges, expand freeways, widen roadways, and ease travel along major arterials. It is not interested in sidewalks and bicycle facilities that would support more housing in the already transportation affordable areas. The complete streets are all along major arterials, the dangerous, busy, noisy, pollution generating roadways that are not where affordable housing should be.

The measure provides some funding for transit, but significantly less than the existing Measure A, less than the 2016 Measure B which failed at the ballot box, less than the draft 2020 Measure which was withdrawn in part due to the pandemic. It also sees the function of transit as mitigating motor vehicle capacity expansion projects, not as a valid mode of travel.

Infill housing can be affordable, if priced correctly. Yes, under current housing cost inflation, almost nothing anywhere is affordable, but in concept infill can be affordable. Greenfield development can never be affordable because the transportation component of H+T will always be too high in greenfield areas.

Sacramento County and the cities in the county are obligated by state law, under the RHNA (regional housing needs assessment) process, to zone sufficient areas for housing at many income levels (very low, low, moderate, above moderate). The proposed measure, because it sucks up nearly all transportation funding into areas of moderate and above moderate housing, pretty much ensures that the governments will not be able to meet their very low and low obligations.

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.

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.