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.

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: words have meaning

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.)

As your parents no doubt told you, words have meaning. So what are the words used in the proposed measure?

  • congestion (in the context of congestion relief) = 24 occurrences
  • greenhouse gas = 6
  • climate = 3
  • low-income = 3
  • community engagement (only in Exhibit B ITOC) = 1
  • equity = 0

A major purpose of this measure is to fund capacity expansion, in an effort to provide congestion relief. But it is well documented and uncontroversial (except among greenfield developers and engineers whose jobs depend on expansion) that attempts to relieve congestion through expansion actually induce new traffic that fills every bit of added capacity. The sponsors of this measure do not believe that. They refuse to believe that. This is a 1970s version of transportation investment, that time when the only issue was building infrastructure that would allow cars to go further and faster. Walking, bicycling, and transit was either an afterthought, or actively discriminated against. We don’t live in those times any more, but the sponsors still do.

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

Transportation tax coming?

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”.

Citizen-initiated measures require only 50%+1 to pass, whereas government-initiated measures require 2/3 to pass. So this is an effort to pass the Sacramento Transportation Authority ‘Measure B’ which failed in 2016 and the ‘Measure A+’ which was never put on the ballot in 2020 because research indicated it would also fail.

You can see the proposed measure. It may also be useful to look at just Exhibit A: Expenditure Plan.

This is the first in what will be a series of posts on the measure, which I’m giving the category of Measure 2022. Search for category Measure 2022 to see the posts as they are added.

Measure B projects

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

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

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

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

transportation funding “balance”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

transportation funding sources and uses

Transportation in Sacramento County comes from a number of sources: federal, state, regional and local. The federal government is the big player in our national and regional transportation system, but has little role in local streets and roads. The state has a large role in national and regional transportation, partly with it own money and partly as a conduit for federal money. The regional Metropolitan Planning Agency, Sacramento Area Council of Governments in our case, does not contribute any funds, but does have a say in how a portion of the federal and state funds are allocated. Sacramento County has a role in the transportation system at all levels, national, regional, and local, and contributes through the Measure A sales tax. Some cities within the county contribute to projects, and much of what little maintenance is done is funding by the cities.

Some readers are saying whoa! There is a lot more detail to the story than this. Yes, there is. What I am doing at the moment is painting with a broad brush for common citizens who might have input on the proposed Measure B sales tax for transportation.

So, where does it go?

  • Federal funds reserve 10% for transit, and almost all the rest goes to highway construction projects. Though the federal government has said it wants to see a more multi-modal transportation system, they are giving money to the states with almost no strings attached and the states are spending it on highway construction. A recent effort to hold states more accountable is toothless.
  • State funds from Proposition 1B and other sources go to construction, transit, a little maintenance, and tiny amounts to the Active Transportation Program. 75% of the money is passed through to the MPOs and regional transportation agencies, but in such a way that most of the decisions are at the regional level are for the same, mostly construction and some other. Again, the state has said it wants to see a more multi-modal system, but funding decisions still strongly favor highways.
  • Regional funds are allocated largely based on requests from the counties and cities for projects, and most of the projects requested are highway construction and arterial expansion. Again, the MPOs have said they want a more multi-modal system, but the funds continue to go largely to cars.
  • County funds are primarily from the transportation sales tax Measure A. Most of these funds were allocated to new construction, with 1/3 for transit and almost none to maintenance and walking and bicycling. The nature of the sales tax measure, approved in 1988 and updated in 2004, is a 30-year term and a list of projects that can only be significantly changed by a new ballot measure.

Here are some links on transportation funding in California:

  • Transportation Funding, Institute for Local Government, undated but may be somewhat out of date
  • Transportation Funding in California, Caltrans, 2014
  • If you search for “transportation funding California” you will find a lot more information. Please realize that some of these web sites and documents are from road building industry groups, so put just as skeptical an eye on those as you do my posts!

transportation sales tax decision tomorrow

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

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

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

More to come!