Against Measure A

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

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

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

Second, as a transportation measure:

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

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

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

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

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

roads in California and Sacramento County

In preparation for some exploration of funding sources for roads, it helps to see what the situation is with the jurisdictions and types of roads, for mileage and VMT.

Jurisdiction means the level of government responsible for the road. This is not always clear from simply looking at a road. If there is a federal or state highway sign, it is pretty clear, but there are roads that are part of the state highway system that are not signed as such.

The types of roads, here, means functional classification, which is a federal designation of Interstate, Principal Arterial – Other Freeways and Expressways, Principal Arterial – Other, Minor Arterial, Major Collector, Minor Collector, and Local. Again, it is not always easy to distinguish classification, but as a generality, freeways fall into the first two, major roads such as Folsom Blvd and Watt Ave fall into the third, busy wide streets are the next three, and residential streets are the last. Another useful classification is that the first six categories are roads, meant to move motor vehicle traffic, and the last is a street, meant to provide access to residences and small businesses. Unfortunately, we build far too many of the road variety and then put business on them so they no longer function well to move cars. See Strong Towns for a more detailed explanation of roads, streets, and stroads.

Continue reading “roads in California and Sacramento County”

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 decision on Cordova Hills

Vernal Pools, from ECOS
Vernal Pools, from ECOS

I attended the six hour long (!) hearing on Wednesday. Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna asked a series of probing questions, many of which had to do with what effect the lack of a university would have on the project benefits and impacts. The private university that had been part of the project withdrew, no replacement has been found, and many people including myself doubt that a replacement will be found. What university would want to be located on the far edge of the Sacramento region, in a place not accessible by public transportation from the rest of the region? Every other institution of higher learning in the region is accessible by public transportation, and SacRT is currently spending millions to extend light rail to Cosumnes River College. Free land is not a sufficient enticement.

Planning staff could not really answer questions about the lack of a university because they had decided that they would only analyze the “with university” scenario in the environmental impact statements and other documents. Supervisor Serna clearly felt that this was a mistake, as did most of the people in the room. Without any hard information, planning staff could make only vague guesses, and seemed lost at sea.

Specifically, the lack of a university would change the jobs/housing balance and would increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the development, leaving it further from meeting SB375 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Somehow, the developer and planning staff were able to get a midnight agreement from the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that additional mitigations would meet the goals, but there was doubt expressed by many about this. Since SB375 requires that developments “adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts”, it left me scratching my head as to how planning staff and developer were suddenly able to come up with more mitigations that they hadn’t initially included.

Since the development is outside the Urban Services Area, which under the Sacramento County General Plan defines the area which is expected to be developed in the next 25 years, the planning staff and developer kept touting that the development met the criteria established by LU-120, so that it should be accepted even though it was outside the area. The LU-120 is a series of criteria which judge the quality and sustainability of the project. The document is here, but be prepared to spend some real time working to understand it. I spent much of the six hours looking at and trying to understand it, and I’m not completely there yet. Planning staff presented a slide which contains the same information in a different format, and I was not able to find that slide on the website. The slide crammed text onto the slide so that no one could read it.

When challenged by supervisors to explain why the project had received the scores on several of the criteria, planning staff was very vague in their answers, basically saying “well, that’s what we decided.” When asked how the lack of a university would affect those scores, they really had no idea, because, again, they had chosen not to look at this scenario. I suspect that the LU-120 scores will end up being the major flaw in the planning process, and will leave any approval of the development open to legal challenge.

The hearing was closed with no decision. The development will be taken up again by the Board of Supervisors on January 29 at 2:00PM, at which time planning staff promised that they would have answers to some of the supervisor’s questions, and a response from SACOG on the implications of this development which was not included in the MTP (Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035 / Sustainable Communities Strategy “The Blueprint for Sustainability”).

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and members spoke eloquently and in great detail about why the project should be disapproved. Two ECOS references of great interest:

I will have more to say about Cordova Hills, as I have the time. The developer’s lawyer said that this development was a “poster child” for quality, sustainable development. Well, it certainly is a poster child, but it is a poster child for sprawl. I think that this particular development has much more impact than one would expect, as approval would open the floodgates for sprawl developers wanting to go outside the Urban Services Area, to latch on the to Southeast Connector for access, and to try to sell their development with promises of a university.

Sprawl

20120419-200953.jpgThis week’s Sacramento News and Review (Thursday, April 29, 2012) has a feature story titled “Onward, Sprawl,” highlighting the impacts of the passion for growth of Sacramento County, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and Elk Grove. I highly recommend a read. The Sacramento Bee has a short article in the Wednesday, April 18 edition titled “County kicks off plan for Hwy 16 growth,” yet another area for development east and south of the developed area of the county.

It will be impossible to serve these new developments with a functional transit system. RT is already not able to serve the sprawling suburbs of Sacramento county, and these developments are much further out from the central cores that contains most of the jobs in this area. Neither light rail nor bus service works when the distances are great and the ridership small, as it would be for these far-flung areas. Driving will increase, more and wider roads will be needed, traffic will be induced, and those people looking for respite from an auto-dominated landscape will feel a need to move even further out, to get away from it all.

Continue reading “Sprawl”

Utility pole in the bike lane

Note: I have moved this post here from my personal blog, since it fits better here, and it is the post that got me started on this blog.

The photos are of a bike lane with a utility pole in the middle of it. This is Fair Oaks Blvd westbound, just west of New York Ave, in the Carmichael area of Sacramento County. The first photo is from a distance, showing the clear bike lane markings. The second photo is closer, showing the pole dead (yes, DEAD) center in the bike lane.

I can think of a million irate things I’d like to say about this situation, but perhaps I’ll restrain myself and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that, though this is the most egregious bike facility hazard I’ve seen in Sacramento County, it is far from the only.