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 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.

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.

Measure 2022: allocation to places

Under the Transportation Expenditure Plan major category of Local Streets and Roads (page A-8 of Exhibit A), both ‘Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements’ and ‘Local Projects of Regional Significance’ funds are allocated to the cities and county. The table below show these allocations.

The percentages for each city and the county are not too far off of what would be their allocation if based solely on population. So this aspect of the TEP can be considered to be not unfair. However, as with all transportation funding, the question arises whether this ‘formula grants’ allocation, as it is called, is the best way to meet the transportation needs of the county. 47.25% of the entire measure is dedicated to local streets and roads, so this is an important question. But one which I don’t have a clear answer to.

A future post will take a closer look at the 93 projects that are listed under both ‘Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements’ and ‘Local Projects of Regional Significance’, and the fix-it-first language in this section.

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.

ECOS presentation on sales tax measure

Tonight (March 10, 2022), the ECOS Climate Change Committee received a presentation on the potential transportation sales tax measure (which I’m calling Measure 2022, until it receives an official name). The presentation was given by Roger Dickinson, who was a member of the state Assembly and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. It was very well presented, concise and on topic. My summary will not cover all the points of the presentation and following discussion, but I think will interest people who are starting to follow the potential measure.

Roger said the measure is very much like the 2020 measure which was not placed on the ballot: 1) fix-it-first; 2) solving congestion; and 3) transportation alternatives. But there are some poison pills included in this measure that were not in the 2020 measure, specifically the Capital Southeast Connector and related issues.

The language included in the 2020 measure to make sure the Capital Southeast Connector complied with air quality requirements of the SACOG MTP/SCS (Sacramento Area Council of Governments Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy) was removed. This language was specifically worked out by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg as a compromise to ensure the city’s support for the measure. The removal is likely to ensure opposition from Steinberg and others in the city. The potential measure essentially makes the Capitol Southeast Connector JPA the judge of whether the project meets air quality requirements – the fox guarding the henhouse. More on this in an upcoming posts.

If the Connector causes the region to not achieve the legally required 19% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the region will be non-compliant and likely not eligible for federal transportation grants.

Discussion that followed Roger’s presentation largely revolved around two issues: 1) is it possible to stop this measure, before or after it makes the ballot, and what would that take?; and 2) should the measure be opposed even though it is likely the only significant source of match funding for SacRT grant applications to advance capital projects including light rail modernization, light rail extension, and BRT (bus rapid transit) corridors?

No answers yet, but this will likely be a major topic of conversation within and among all the transportation advocacy and equity organizations in the county, for many months to come.

Measure 2022: no public engagement


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.)

It has been relayed from others that the committee did not feel that it needed to do any public engagement before developing the text of the measure. The rationale is that since the Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) is very similar to that proposed in 2020, and before that in 2016, that is all the public engagement necessary. The TEP was indeed approved by the county and city councils, but there was no real public engagement on the issues. Transportation engineers and planners developed a wish list, and the government bodies adopted it without analysis. Except in the City of Sacramento, where the council challenged the plan developed by Public Works, and demanded a plan that better addressed the needs of the citizens and critical issues such as climate change and equity. None of the other entities did this. So the overall TEP is essentially a list of pet projects of the engineers and planners, developed without any real criteria and without reference to the desires of the community. Some board and council members will claim that they know what the public wants, and their approval is all that is necessary. But the fact is, they never asked the public what they thought.

So, the committee is running with that. No public engagement. This is a citizen-led measure, but the committee decided they didn’t need to hear from anyone else. No meetings, no outreach, no nothing.

We do not know who the committee is, and won’t know who it is until they file the measure with county elections, due July 18. I guessing since they have posted the measure and their sponsors on their website, not listing committee members is likely an effort to hide that information from the public. They will be gathering signatures between now and when they submit. I ask that you not sign their petition. To bring up the old adage: “No taxation without representation.” Therefore, no public engagement, no measure, no taxes.

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

Measure 2022: greenfield developer sponsors

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.)

The sponsor of the measure is Cordova Hills Development Corporation. So far as can be determined, the entity does not have a website, though there are references to the development on the website of some of the contractors who have been hired to plan the development. There is apparently an interlocking series of shell companies related to Cordova Hills, but none have websites.

So, what is Cordova Hills? It is a greenfield development proposed for former farm and ranch lands south of Rancho Cordova. Greenfield development is not needed in the Sacramento region; there is plenty of land available for infill development that can serve all the same needs as Cordova Hills. So, why does this company, and many others like it, want greenfield development? Because they can purchase land at agricultural prices, develop it, and then sell it at urban prices, with a huge profit potential. I am not against development, but it is important to remember that there are two types of development and developers: infill and greenfield. Infill is socially and environmentally sound, greenfield is not. Infill builds wealth in the community, greenfield destroys wealth because the development never ends up generating enough tax income for the infrastructure and particularly infrastructure maintenance it incurs.

What Cordova Hills is asking is that the taxpayers of Sacramento County subsidize their development by providing transportation infrastructure. There is less and less support for sprawl greenfield development in the county, so the sponsors are wrapping the subsidy in a measure with other benefits. The developers do not have a good record with the public. During the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors hearing which approved the project, the developer lied about several aspects of the development, and intimidated the supervisors with implied threats to run candidates against them. It was only a last minute agreement between SACOG and the supervisors with language that that the development would not break the MTP/SCS that allowed the development to pass.

The biggest benefit claimed by the developers was a university that was to be part of the project. The proposed university withdrew, and it has never to date been replaced with another, but since the development was approved with a university implied but not required, the developer intends to move forward without.

More about Cordova Hills:

Of course this greenfield development is tied at the hip to the Southeast Connector. More about that in coming posts.

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.

How to fund transit in Sac county

This post is a follow-on to three previous posts, in particular:

and many other posts on this blog (category Measure B) and on Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (categories Measure B 2016 and Measure A 2020).

It is quite possible that Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA) will decide to float a new transportation sales tax measure in 2022 or 2024. The transit, walking and bicycling advocacy community, which worked hard but largely unsuccessfully to improve the 2020 Measure A, which never made it to the ballot, will have to decide what to do between now and then. I argue that efforts to improve the newest measure will not significantly improve it because: 1) the SacTA board is resistant to including policy and performance goals in the measure; 2) the list of projects is and probably will always be a wish list of the engineers in each of the government transportation agencies in the county, which will always be weighted towards cars-first and ribbon cutting projects; and 3) SacTA gave strong lip service to the idea of maintenance (fix-it-first) in the measure, but there was nothing to guarantee that the expenditures would actually reflect that. One has only to look at the condition of our surface streets, sidewalks and bike lanes, and bus stops and light rail vehicles, to know that has never been the priority.

I would like to suggest three major alternatives to a new transportation sales tax measure put forward by SacTRA:

  • a citizen-initiated measure that reflects the values of the residents and businesses of Sacramento County, and not the preferences of engineers
  • a transit-only measure (with first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements), either for the county, or the actual service area of the transit agencies where residents support transit
  • other sources of income rather than a regressive sales tax

Citizen-initiated Measure

A citizen-initiated funding measure only needs to pass by 50%+1, whereas agency-initiated measures need to pass by 2/3. The 2/3 level is hard though not impossible to achieve – several transportation and transit measures in California have achieved that level, but certainly 50% is easier. This 50% is not based on a specific state law, but on a court ruling about San Francisco’s tax measures which passed with more than 50%. It will probably be subject to further court cases as anti-tax organizations try to overturn the ruling, but for now, it stands. The 2016 Measure B had a yes vote of 64%+, but needed 2/3, and therefore failed. The polling done for the 2020 Measure A was also less than 2/3, which is why Sacramento County and SacTA declined to put it on the ballot.

I have no illusions about how difficult it would be to engage the community, write a ballot measure, and then promote it strongly enough to receive a 50% plus vote. The recent experience the community organizations that supported a measure for stronger rent stabilization and eviction protection in the City of Sacramento, that failed to pass, gives pause. The SacMoves coalition spent thousands of hours of individual and organization time, basically writing a good measure for SacTA to use, but very little of that effort was included in the measure proposed by SacTA. A successful citizen-initiated measure would require more than double the amount of work, and a broader coalition. Nevertheless, it is an option that I think should receive serious consideration.

I doubt that the structure of SacTA, which is board members that are elected in each of the jurisdictions, without formal citizen or organization representation on the board, combined with a Transportation Expenditure Plan that is and will alway be a wish list for roadway engineers, can ever lead to a good measure. We could of course wait to see what SacTA comes up with, or again try the largely unsuccessful attempt to improve the measure, or just oppose any measure from SacTA.

Transit-Only Measure

The percentage of 2020 Measure A allocated to transit was actually lower than in the 2016 Measure B, and lower than in the existing Measure A. Some of the difference in 2020 was due to the regional rail allocation being subtracted from the transit allocation, but there was more to it than just that. Sadly, SacRT accepted this reduction as ‘the best they could get’. To citizen advocates, though, it was unacceptable. Since the 2020 measure was not placed on the ballot, it was not necessary for advocates to formally oppose passage of the measure, but I believe most of them would have.

A transit-only measure would avoid this competition between maintenance, roadway capacity expansion, and transit (notice that walking and bicycling are not really in the competition at all), by allocating all funds to transit and related needs. The amount of course would not be the half-cent sales tax of the 2020 Measure A, but more likely a quarter-cent sales tax (or equivalent in other incomes sources, see the next section). Certainly the advocacy community would support first/last mile walking and bicycling improvements in the measure, though I’m not sure exactly how it would be defined or whether the percentage would be specified ahead of time.

A transit-only measure would more easily allow the SacRT to determine how much to allocate to capital (bus and light rail vehicles and rail, and related items such as bus stops and sidewalks) versus operations, and to change that allocation over time as needs changed. The three counties that are members of Caltrain passed 2020 Measure RR for a eighth-cent sales tax to fund operations, with 69% of the vote, and at least 2/3 in each county, precedence in California for transit-only measures.

For a transit-only measure, a decision would have to be made about the geographical area it covers. Sacramento County, only and exactly, or Sacramento County plus the YoloBus service area, or just the transit-using areas. It was clear that the strongest support for 2016 Measure B was in the transit-using parts of Sacramento County, and if these areas were the only ones, it would have passed easily. There has also been a lot of opposition to transit expenditures on the part of the county supervisors who say they represent the rural and semi-rural areas of the county (it is statistically impossible that three of the five supervisors represent rural, given that the population of the county is mostly urban and denser suburban). A lot of advocates then said, well, if they don’t want transit, then let’s exclude voters and their tax income in the future. Of course the projects defined in the measure, mostly capacity expansion, could not be funded off sales tax from only the rural and semi-rural areas, so most of these would never happen. And I think that is a good thing.

Other Sources

The sales tax rate in Sacramento County is 7.75%, and ranges up to 8.75% in the City of Sacramento and some other locations. I am not opposed to sales tax, but I think we are at or close to the point of diminishing returns on sales tax income versus impact on people and businesses. Sales taxes are regressive, in that lower income people pay a much higher percentage of their income for sales tax than do higher income people. It is not the most regressive of taxes, that award probably goes to flat rate parcel taxes where people with a lot of land and expensive buildings pay the same as anyone else. For more detail on possible funding sources, please see my earlier post: transportation funding ideas.

California under Prop 13 has an intentionally biased tax base, where property tax depends more on when you purchased than on the value of the property. I really hoped that 2020 Prop 15 would pass, undoing part of the tremendous damage that Prop 13 has done to California, but it did not. So while small and gradual increases in property tax income can occur, it is probably not enough to finance our transportation system. This saddens me, because I believe property tax would be the best, most equitable source of funding.

If property tax can serve only part of the need, and further sales tax increases are not my preference, what then? First, I think that both federal and state funding of transportation should move away from any and all roadway capacity expansion. Overall federal and state transportation funding should be greatly reduced so that it only funds needs that are more than county or regional level. And yes, federal and state taxes should be commensurately reduced, so that the money does not simply go elsewhere. State prohibitions on the type of taxes and fees that can be levied at the city and county level should be mostly or entirely removed, so that cities and counties can then recover the foregone state and federal taxes for whatever transportation uses they deem.

Local transportation needs would still exist, and should be locally funded. Yes, I want Sacramento County to provide most of the transportation funding for Sacramento County. It is necessary that local people pay for transportation, and see the benefit of what they pay for, so that they can make rational decisions about what they want and how to pay for it. Getting state and federal grants to meet local transportation needs is just a game that agencies play, hoping that they will somehow get more than they give. We know that states with strong economies, such as California, subsidize transportation in other places, and that regions with strong economies such as Los Angeles area, Bay Area, and maybe Sacramento, subsidize transportation in other regions. No reason for that to be happening, unless the need being addressed is regional or greater. If you don’t agree on this, I’d ask that you read Strong Towns Rational Response #1: Stop and Rational Response #1: What it means to STOP. And everything else by Strong Towns, for that matter.

We have spent trillions of dollars on a motor vehicle transportation system, with the biggest accomplishment being destruction of communities of color, impoverished economies and communities, pollution-caused health problems, climate change, and death, injury, and intimidation of walkers and bicyclists. It is time to stop. All future funding should go to maintenance, transit, intercity trains, walking, and bicycling. Those who want to bring ‘balance’ by making a small shift are asking that we continue the madness. We should not.

Examples of projects or maintenance that should come from the state or federal level? The Interstate highways that are actually dedicated to national defense and interstate commerce. In Sacramento region, that means Interstate 5 and Interstate 80. No, not the current freeways that have been bloated to serve local and regional commuters, but the highways. Two lanes in each direction would be sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of these highways. All additional lanes, if any, should be completely funded at the local level because they serve local needs. Long distance and regional rail should also be funded. In the case of Sacramento, that means the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr, and the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins regional rail. That’s pretty much it. There might be some argument for funding freight rail infrastructure and maintenance, not sure. No, I don’t think airports should be funded at the any level, they are a transportation mode that benefits primarily high income travelers and shipping corporations. If they want that infrastructure, they should pay for it.

So, how to fund transportation in the county?

First, charge for parking everywhere, even in residential areas. A residential parking permit should reflect the part cost of maintaining all streets. Quite possibly, people would reduce their use of the public street to store their personal vehicle, and might reduce their ownership of vehicles so that they don’t need to park on the street, and those would be good side effects, but would also limit the income from those permits. When there are fewer vehicles parked, there is less resistance to re-allocating space to sidewalks, sidewalk buffers, and bike lanes. Metered parking should be raised to ‘market rates’ which means what it would cost to park in a private garage or lot, AND achieves the Shoupian ideal of at least one open parking space on every block. Of course all parking revenue should go to transportation, not to other uses (such as paying off the Golden 1 Center). The Pasadena model of using some parking income to improve the street and surrounding areas is compatible.

Second, charge for entry into congested areas. In Sacramento County, that would primarily mean the central city. The purpose of this fee is not to reduce congestion, though the fees are often called congestion fees, but to obtain the income necessary to build and maintain our transportation network. The fee would be for each entry, so that people who live in the central city but don’t use their car much would not be paying a lot, while people who commute into the central city for their own convenience would be paying a lot.

These two sources alone might well not meet the need for transportation funding in the county, and I don’t have a ready solution to that. I don’t want development impact fees to go to transportation because I think they should be used to upgrade utilities and fund affordable housing. Same with title transfer taxes.

So, those are my thoughts of the moment. Comments and other or additional ideas are welcome.