It is difficult to come out against a measure that on its surface aims to keep the buses running and help ease traffic congestion in a number of ways. Buses provide the transit option of last resort for many and there should be a way to make sure that option is available to those who need it.

Transit agencies are also not known for making a profit and actually need subsidies to make sure this public benefit is available.

SamTrans, the agency that runs the bus system, is running into what is known as a fiscal cliff that could come as soon as 2024 or earlier. That cliff means that its revenue shortfall will be the cause of significant cuts, and the levels of those cuts are simply not palatable to those running the bus service.

To help ease that pain, SamTrans officials envisioned a way to package a sales tax that would provide revenue for the bus service with other transportation improvements aimed at gathering support from interest groups including bicyclists and cities that would like to use the funding in a variety of ways.

As part of this process, SamTrans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a public outreach campaign to gather input on what regular folks would like to see. As a result, we have a wide-ranging plan that would provide half — an estimated $40 million a year — to SamTrans, with the rest — an estimated $40 million a year — going to a variety of possible projects including highway congestion, potholes, bike lanes and more. The amount is not small potatoes, but adds a half-cent sales tax to everyone in San Mateo County for projects that largely should already be paid for out of the gas tax and even part of the $3 toll increase voters just passed. Additionally, Caltrain is moving toward asking for an eighth-cent sales tax increase as well in a future election. This surely spells voter fatigue when there has been very little evidence of improvements from the tax revenue that is already collected. Sure, the auxillary lane program was good for Highway 101, but that was years ago. And the baby bullet was also good for Caltrain, but that too was years ago.

One of the primary concerns of the respondents in SamTrans’ polling was the State Route 92/Highway 101 interchange. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to know adding lanes to the eastbound exchange will do much to ease congestion both on Highway 101 and surface streets. And yet that improvement project was pulled from the State Transportation Improvement Program before the gas tax passed. Now that Senate Bill 1 was passed, all that has been allocated to it has been $5 million and plans for a short- or long-term fix has yet to be completed. The STIP has allocated $33 million for the managed lanes program, which seeks to add a toll lane to Highway 101, and the main interchange on the transit “backbone” to Silicon Valley gets a mere $5 million? Proponents of Measure W might argue that there is possible funding for the interchange improvement in the countywide highway congestion improvements section, but it should be priority one, and the plans should be shovel-ready.

In fact, where that particular project is in the pipeline is symbolic of what is wrong with this measure. It is a measure in search of a solution, rather than a solution in search of a measure. If SamTrans had simply said the money from this measure is to save bus service from cuts while funding a shovel-ready transportation solution for which people are clamoring (State Route 92/Highway 101 fix), or even grade separation projects to ease surface street congestion, then it would have been a worthwhile exercise. Instead, it seems likely that it will become a sort of slush fund for officials to allocate to supporters. Many of the other transportation improvements should already be funded by the half-cent sales tax San Mateo County voters already pay for transportation improvements, the increase to the gas tax and even Regional Measure 3, which raised bridge tolls. A lot more should be done to make sure this area gets our fair share of the taxes we already pay. And the average folks in this area already pay a lot.

As it stands now, Measure W will actually do little to improve transportation or traffic congestion in this county in any kind of meaningful way with how many possible projects are outlined in the measure’s long text. It’s too bad because there could have been some real ingenuity to this measure and instead we got a hodgepodge of possible projects that will not actually solve this area’s transportation woes. It is time to go back to the drawing board.

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(16) comments

TNT

Thank you SMDJ for unveiling the deceitful attempt by SamTrans and its Board led by Charles Stone (Belmont Councilman) to gain votes for Measure W. SamTrans Board is using the same manipulative tactics that Stone and Belmont Council used to push Belmont’s Measure I half-cent sales tax in 2016.

For Measure I, Belmont spent hundreds of thousands of dollars by hiring Godbe Research to conduct surveys and The Lews Edwards Group to perform public outreach to garner support for "community priorities" in a general sales tax package that would: improve city services, maintaining 9-1-1 emergency response times, reducing congestion and improving safety on streets including Alameda and Ralston, maintaining neighborhood police along with fixing potholes/repairing streets and repairing storm drains.
Belmont voters went for the bait and approved Measure I with the hope that proceeds from Measure I will be used for infrastructure. Unfortunately, since it is a general tax, there is no guarantee that future Councils will not use the tax revenue on a pet project or to pay salaries or other priorities.

I hope Belmont voters will not be fooled twice. I’m voting NO on Measure W.

NO to Lieberman, Mates and Stone for Belmont City Council.

YES to Deniz Bolbol for Belmont City Council.

K McLaughlin

I voted YES on W. SamTrans should be supported. Local transit here doesn't get much funding and this will make a huge difference in more local service including connections to our surrounding counties and East Bay. It will also fund bike and pedestrian connections to transit. Bus,rail and biking and walking should be prioritized in our county as the cheapest and healthiest means of getting around. Please vote YES on W to make it easier for everyone in our county.

Alana

I don't want to pay 9.75% sales tax, but that is what working families, working poor, student that don't make the median salary in San Mateo Co. are faced should Measure W pass. I'll continue shopping in San Francisco where they face prop C --a tax increase to businesses to pay for their homeless problem. Their voters rejected a half cent tax increase last time and remain the lowest in the bay area at 8.5%

JCL

Thank you for your well researched article, Vote NO on Measure W.

I couldn't agree more that this tax measure, if passed, will "likely become a sort of slush fund for officials to allocate to supporters" for a "hodgepodge of possible projects that will not solve area's transportation woes".

Charles Stone, chair of SamTrans Board and current incumbent running for Belmont Council is behind this tax overreach. He has announced that he will be running for San Mateo County Supervisor and has received extensive donations from special interests, and endorsements of political insiders. The DJ correctly notes the measure seems focused on currying favors of special interests.

I agree that "a lot more should be done to make sure this area gets our fair share of the high taxes we already pay and suggest that Charles Stone and his assistant, Josh Powell "go back to the drawing board" and rethink this entire issue.

JoshPowell

Traffic is an issue on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Sitting through life-wasting stop and goes. Everyone wants out of traffic congestion. Not everyone wants to pay our share.

It would be nice if there were hidden pots of statewide SB1 money sitting around that we could dig out to pay for all of our traffic, but there isn’t.
It would be nice if there were hidden pots of regional RM3 money sitting around that we could dig out to pay for all of our traffic, but there isn’t.

We cannot look to the state or larger region to pay for all of our local county transportation needs, because our transportation needs are so much higher than outside of our immediate region. We have to pay proportionally more than Fresno or Napa pays, because we have proportionally bigger needs than Fresno. Our traffic is our responsibility and demanding people that do not have our needs to pay for them is not reasonable. SB1 and RM3 will hopefully kick in a proportionate share of those funds to pay for transportation projects in San Mateo County, but that’s not guaranteed nor up to our local representatives.

Measure W is going entirely for San Mateo Counties transportation needs and is entirely up to our local representatives how to spend it, so Measure W money will go to paying for San Mateo County projects.

Measure W isn’t meant to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to fund the bigger projects this article prioritizes, it would have to raise the sales tax 2% instead of 1/2% and then be spent entirely on one interchange or one grade separation project per year, leaving dozens of smaller impactful projects without funding. Measure W will provide much needed funding for our bus system, and provide funding for smaller to mid-sized transportation projects that will have positive impacts on traffic. It will not cure all traffic all by itself, but we should still vote yes on Measure W. The alternative for the next two years is to live with the transportation infrastructure we’ve got, hoping for a state or federal bailout that won’t come.

Thomas Morgan

We pay more income tax to Sacramento and Washington than anywhere in the country. Not fair we have to tax ourselves again to fix the things the disinterested parties in Sacramento and Washington were supposed to maintain in the first place.

vincent wei

Thank you for the editorial.

NoFakeNews

Real news alert!

A comment above says that Belmont has the highest sales tax in San Mateo County. Not true. 3 cities share this number.

http://www.sale-tax.com/California_all

City Rate
Belmont 9.25%
East Palo Alto 9.25%
South San Francisco 9.25%
Burlingame 9.00%
San Mateo 9.00%
Atherton 8.75%
Brisbane 8.75%
Colma 8.75%
Daly City 8.75%
Foster City 8.75%
Half Moon Bay 8.75%
Hillsborough 8.75%
Menlo Park 8.75%
Millbrae 8.75%
Pacifica 8.75%
Portola Valley 8.75%
Redwood City 8.75%
San Bruno 8.75%
San Carlos 8.75%
Woodside 8.75%

The median income in San Mateo County is $91,421. if we assume that the median spend that's sale taxable (e.g. no groceries or medication) is 20% that means that the highest sales tax one would pay is $1691.29 and the lowest is $1599.87.

That's a difference of less than $91.42 per year. That's a quarter a day.

Not a big deal at all.

Christopher Conway

Kind a race to the bottom if you will

Michael Stogner

"As part of this process, SamTrans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a public outreach campaign to gather input on what regular folks would like to see." A total of $600,000 of Tax Payer money wasted to promote this measure.

Christopher Conway

Voters - Make it easy on yourselves, vote NO on all the propositions and new tax proposals except the one that repeals the gas tax. That one is a YES. That is all you need to know.

Alana

YUP YUP !

Tim E Strinden

Thank you for an excellent, well-reasoned editorial! In Belmont we have the highest sales tax rate in the county, along with two other cities, thanks to Charles Stone and his fellow council members, who enthusiastically pushed for Measure I. Now, as Chair of SamTrans, Stone is the driving force behind another half percent sales tax increase, for Belmont and everyone else in the county. If passed, that would make Belmont’s rate 9.75%, which would be a half percent higher than the highest rate in any of our neighboring counties (San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Alameda).

A high sales tax rate is regressive, and may convince some to shop in other counties for high-ticket items. However, county residents won’t be able to escape it when buying a car, because the sales tax rate for cars is based on your city of residence. Belmont residents already pay an extra $200 in sales tax when buying a new car for $40,000, thanks to Measure I, and will pay an additional $200 if Measure W is passed.

Charles Stone seems to think that higher taxes are the only solution to our problems, but we need to focus on working smarter with the money we have. Measure I wasn’t needed for Belmont, because the city has enough revenue and its roads are improving without it, and Measure W won’t be good for the county. The Bay Area economy is the best it's ever been, and if we can't solve our transportation problems now with such healthy revenue streams coming into local governments, it will be completely hopeless if there is a serious economic downturn. Vote NO on Measure W!

ABicycleCommuter

Vote on on Measure W because it's not going to solve congestion or provide people with credible option; and create a sludge fund for political supporters of Board President Stone and his lackey Powell. He has shown these stripes on the Belmont city council relying on staff and ignoring the community as challenger Deniz Bolbol has presciently pointed out.

bandit

BEWARE, VOTE NO ON "W", read the fine print
& disclaimer, there is nothing preventing this
money being spent outside of san mateo
county, OR, on other projects not specified
in this get rich scheme, VOTE NO ON "W"

Seasoned Observer

Good call on this one. As the sales tax rate approaches 10% we need to find alternative ways to finance these projects and systems. Time for a "head tax" on large employers in the area as they are the ones creating the traffic problems in our area.

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