RM3: HJTA Files Suit!

On Thursday July 5, 2018, the Howard Jarvis Tax Association and three individuals filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court against the Bay Bridge Toll Authority (BATA), the California State Legislature and “all persons interested in the matter of Regional Measure 3”

Regional Measure 3 (RM3) was adopted by 53.7% of the Bay Area voters on June 5, 2018. It raises the tolls on Bay Area bridges by $3 plus additional increases in accordance with inflation. The Plaintiff’s suit is based upon the fact that by defining the Bay Bridge toll increases as “fees” (requiring a majority vote) rather than “taxes” (requiring a two-thirds vote), the Defendants violated the California Constitution as updated by the California voters on November 2, 2010.

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The Future of Passenger Rail in the Bay Area

Background: By the late 1960’s the Bay Area’s interurban passenger rail systems were mostly gone. Since then travelers, encouraged by the State of California’s long standing practice of widening and expanding its freeways to temporarily ward off gridlock, have turned increasingly to their private automobiles to get around in the Bay Area: to the point where things are now out of hand. California’s myopic confidence that it could build its way out of traffic congestion failed.

It didn’t take long for urbanites to recognize the damage being done to the Bay Area by an ever growing highway system. In the early 1960’s San Franciscans mounted a mighty campaign that successfully prevented their city from being chopped up by freeways. By the early 1970’s people in the Bay Area were talking about how to bring the Region back into transportation balance. Unfortunately there was no local or regional governmental follow-up. The freeways continued to dominate and, except for BART (more about BART below), the non-automotive alternatives remained in a state of stagnation. Continue reading

Why are Bay Area subway and rail costs among the highest in the world?

Article by Andy Bosselman published at Curbed San Francisco

Shortly before the Bay Area appeared on lists of the worst traffic in the world, the region set an ambitious plan to move millions of daily car trips to public transportation by 2040. But local transit agencies pay some of the highest subway and train construction costs in the world, which will limit the impact of $21 billion the nine counties pledged to expand the transit network.

“If your costs are higher you will build less,” says Alon Levy, a mathematician turned transportation expert (and Curbed contributor). His simple cost-per-mile comparisons of subway projects expose the astronomical costs of building urban rail in the United States.

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RM3 Aproved…..the Aftermath

RM3 was accepted by the voters of the Bay Area on June 5, 2018. This has created a gigantic $4.45 billion slush fund for regional planners to dispense. Considering that the “Yes on RM3” side outspent the “No” side by least 250 to 1 and yet won by a scant 53.9%, the “Yes” side has little to cheer about. Especially since the votes for successive regional transportation funding measures have been dropping.

As might be expected, non-bridge users voted mostly for RM3 and frequent bridge users voted mostly against it. All else aside, RM3 was patently unfair in terms of who pays and who gets the proceeds of the bridge toll increases.

In addition, the RM3 bridge toll increases are being improperly treated as fees (requiring a 50% vote) when they are in fact taxes (requiring a 2/3rd vote).  On November 5, 1997 the Californa voters passed State Proposition 218 which added Article 13C to the California Constitution.  According to Article 13C a bridge toll increase is a fee only “if it is imposed for the exclusive privilege of the payor (driver & passengers)…”  Since the sponsors of RM3 plan to use the bridge toll increases to pay for expensive projects scattered around the Region including in areas where most of the voters virtually never use the bridges, the proceeds of RM3 are clearly not fees.  Since this puts RM3 in direct violation of Article 13C and since the measure passed by 53.9%, not 2/3rds it should be nullified by the Courts.

Another equally fundamental defect in RM3 is that it neither reduces regional traffic congestion nor bolsters the Region’s lagging public transit networks. There are a few worthwhile projects in RM3, but there are also many turkeys.  RM3 loosely defines 35 projects. Here are some highlighted allocations:

  • BART and Muni fleet replacement: $500 million and $140 million (this is needed)
    Caltrain Downtown Extension: $325 million (also needed)
  • Capitol Corridor Upgrade and Dumbarton Rail Crossing: $90million and $130 million (also needed but the allocations are much too small)
  • Ferrys: $300 million (incredibly, 7.3% of RM3 has been allocated to a system that accounts for only 0.05% of Bay Area trips)
  • BART to San Jose: $375 million (needed perhaps, but the anticipated ridership comes no where close to justifying the cost)
  • Fourteen backward-looking, traffic-inducing highway projects: $2,390 million
  • Vaguely defined transit, transit access and trails improvements: 4 projects; $615 million
  • RM3 allocations lavished upon non-bridge using Santa Clara County: $755 million

Do we think that RM3 will cause the highway backups and the urban congestion to ease? No….we don’t.  Do we think that the increased bridge tolls are taxes and not fees  and that therefore RM3 violates the State Constitution?  Yes we do.


Regional Measure 3 Would Slip a $3 + Bridge Toll Hike Past the Voters

Dick Spotswood, Marin Independent Journal, May 27, 2018 How to vote on Regional Measure 3 is an easy call. That’s the proposition on the June 5 ballot to raise tolls on all seven Caltrans-operated Bay Area bridges by $3. The independently managed Golden Gate Bridge isn’t affected by the measure.

If you trust the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – the indirectly appointed regional agency behind the proposition – to spend the money wisely, then vote yes. If not, vote no. It’s as simple as that.

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