The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District’s (SMART’s) 45 mile commuter rail service in the North Bay from Santa Rosa to the Larkspur Ferry is funded by a ¼ cent sales tax through 2029. This week North Bay voters decisively rejected the proposal to extend the sales tax for an additional 30 years through 2059, thereby forcing the District to address its budgetary and operational problems in a realistic manner. Past mistakes and unwise decisions regarding cost, scheduling, projected ridership and rail operations have lead to a system that is both excessively costly and underused. Things have gotten to the point where the District’s total operating expense now exceeds its revenue. Fortunately there are 9 years of guaranteed sales tax funding remaining, giving the District sufficient time to reform its management and operations so as to provide a better and more effective service, and thereby improve its standing with the voters.
Faster Bay Area (FBA) the so-called Megatax. In late January SB278 (Senator Jim Beall, D-15th, Silicon Valley) was advanced out of the Senate in its original format (a three-page directive to perform coordinated regional transportation planning) as a placeholder bill. It was received by the Assembly, went through first read, and is being held at the desk. Assembly committee hearings not yet scheduled.
After missing their promised targets for “populating” (adding content to) of SB278 in mid-December, Mid-January, and Mid-February, the FBA sponsors continue to work with their pre-selected stakeholders to produce a “consensus bill”.
As of 2/21/20 SB278 remained in a “gut-and-amend” status, meaning that it still had no new content.
For decades San Francisco and the rest of the Region have been suffering from an increasing imbalance between incoming new jobs and housing. Municipal, regional and State governments have been either unable or unwilling to do anything about the problem.
Fed up, the people of San Francisco have now taken a stand. On March 3, 2020 they passed San Francisco Prop E. According to Ida Mojadad’s in depth article (SF Examiner 2/29/20), Prop E will require large developers to curtail office development unless an appropriate amount of affordable housing development is built in San Francisco in accordance with state-mandated affordable housing objectives. Thanks to a ballot measure passed in the 1980’s San Francisco already limits the amount of office space that can be approved every year. Prop. E will reduce the amount of currently acceptable new office space by a percentage equal to the percentage by which the city fails to fulfill its affordable housing obligations. In addition Prop E will cap large new office projects in the South of Market neighborhood until at least 15,000 new affordable housing units are provided in that area.
Why one might ask, should a transit-advocacy group like BATWG care about Prop E?
Because as well as addressing San Francisco jobs/housing imbalance, Prop E directly confronts the Region’s most intractable transportation problem, which is how to end the development community’s long established practice of piling jobs into high cost housing areas, thereby forcing incoming employees, or those displaced by incoming employees, to relocate to distant, long-commute locations. Under this broken system developers are provided with financial incentives to both cater to the desires of large incoming employers and create additional sprawl. A better balance between housing and jobs would benefit everyone except those who put get-rich-quick real estate profits ahead of all other considerations.
Actions taken to deal with the Bay Area’s growing transportation and land use problems have been failing for decades. (The Faster Bay Area group has set out to do better, but the returns on that effort are still out). As things stand the prognosis is for more of the same wasteful misdirection scarce transportation funding to ill-conceived programs and projects, all in the name of “progress”. This situation did not arise by accident. It came about in large part of because political power has been and still is vested in a regional public body whose policy-makers seem to neither know much nor care much about reversing the Bay Area’s deteriorating transportation condition. This leaves them vulnerable to being unduly influenced by parochial, development and other outside interests with other objectives. Until this long-standing organizational defect is corrected, the Bay Area will continue to be afflicted by defective rail and bus operations, increased traffic backups and worsening housing agonies.
Senator Weiner’s SB 50, with its state-mandated, developer-dominated, meat axe approach to housing is dead.
But remain alert. Pieces of SB50 are almost certain to start quietly reappearing in other State bills.
As we’ve noted before, the indiscriminate piling of housing near transit stops, won’t significantly increase transit use and won’t have any discernible effect on highway congestion. That’s because except in places where there are abundant transit opportunities, few if any of the incoming new residents will willingly give up their cars. The result of this continued reliance on the private automobile for most trips would be increased traffic near stations and reduced on-street parking, thereby making it more difficult for long distance commuters to access their transit lines. If wiser heads prevail, the next round of legislation will be distinctly different from the heavy-handed approach exhibited in SB 50. Here are a few principles that should apply:
- It can’t be just housing. Transportation woes and housing shortages are part of the same problem and therefore have to be addressed jointly.
- No one size fits all. Even if the State leads the effort the affected towns, cities and counties will need to have a say.