I enjoyed Sue Lempert’s Aug. 5 column concerning the attack by San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie on the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury after it issued a report criticizing the county for not treating certain state educational funds (which exceeded school funding requirements) as revenue in its 2012-13 budget. The grand jury alleged that voters on a ballot measure to increase the countrywide sales tax weren’t informed that such state money refuted the representation to voters of a probable budget deficit without increased sales taxation. The county manager assailed the grand jury’s report and, additionally (and perhaps gratuitously), assailed the grand jury system for operating in secret sessions, as permitted by state law. Ms. Lempert opined that the county manager “made a big mistake in going after the grand jury.” She accurately pointed out that the grand jury functions as an investigative body; investigators don’t interview witnesses in open or public proceedings.
Ms. Lempert also reminded readers (and me) that in the mid-1990s, I fomented grandiloquently about a civil grand jury report concluding that San Mateo County would lose money if the extension of BART into San Francisco International Airport occurred.
I appreciate Ms. Lempert’s reference to me as the “father” of the BART extension into SFO, but I’m even happier that, contrary to the 1996 manipulations and misrepresentations of the then-SFO general manager, such extension eventually opened 10 years ago this fall while I was still sitting as a San Mateo County Superior Court judge. (The then-SFO general manager abhorred the idea of any other public agency, whether San Mateo County or BART, invading his “turf”). I’m even happier to note a little-disseminated fact: That section of BART, transporting riders to and from SFO to San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, Daly City, San Francisco and stations in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, constitutes the only portion of BART not requiring operating subsidies from taxpayers. In fact, for the past two years, the SFO extension has even generated profit for BART, which otherwise requires approximately 27 percent of its expenditures to be subsidized by taxpayers. (Incidentally, BART produces more money from the fare box, about 73 percent of its operating expenses, than any other of the 28 public transit agencies in the Bay Area by far). The SFO extension this past month recovered 114.7 percent of its opening cost from fares, highest in the state!
Having presided over the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury for 30 months of my judicial service during the last decade, I agree with Ms. Lempert’s observation that grand juries are “useful” and should be supported. I don’t know if the county manager or the grand jury was right regarding their dispute. I do know grand jurors volunteer many hours of effort on a weekly basis during their one year of service. Please don’t cripple them, if you’re a public official, despite the temptation to do so.
Quentin L. Kopp is a retired judge of the San Mateo County Superior Court and a former state senator. He lives in San Francisco.