Political Climate with Mark Simon: Proposed half-cent sales tax aims to rescue SamTrans from fiscal jail

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

The San Mateo County Transit District is expected to vote Wednesday to put a 30-year half-cent sales tax proposal on the November ballot, which would generate $80 million in new and desperately needed funds.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will follow up with a vote of their own before the early August ballot deadline, and, with that, the entirety of the county’s political establishment will be united behind a measure SamTrans officials say is critical for the future of the transit district.

Half the money, $1.2 billion over 30 years, will go to SamTrans to use for an expanded and new array of services that will put the district in the position to reinvent itself and provide transportation for a rapidly and dramatically changing region.

The money essentially gets SamTrans out of fiscal jail. The district is funded by a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1974. The San Mateo County of 1974 is virtually unrecognizable in comparison to the county that is wrestling today with 2 percent unemployment, dozens of major employers and traffic that would have been unimaginable 44 years ago.

Simply put, SamTrans needs money to do more and do better and it needs to have the flexibility to spend these new funds to use and deploy technologies that, in many cases, have not yet been rendered usable or even invented.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was an executive at SamTrans through 2017 and worked on the early efforts to develop the spending plan that will come before the voters in November.

I worked on this effort because I thought it was a good idea and essential for the future of our community. I still think so.

HOWARD’S IN: Five-term Redwood City Councilwoman Diane Howard on Sunday formally declared her candidacy for four more years in an office she has held for more than 20 years and in a community where she has been active for more than 35 years.

She was introduced by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, who called Howard “the heartbeat of Redwood City … She holds all of the people of this community in her heart and in her hand.”

Howard held her announcement event at the well-appointed gardens of Gordon Manor, a long-established elder care facility with whom Howard has a long association.

In her own remarks, Howard promised to continue what she described as a record of addressing the toughest issues facing the city: Leading the “renaissance and revitalization of downtown Redwood City,” balancing a city budget facing severe challenges, maintaining and advancing the city’s economic and cultural diversity and championing community engagement and participation.

She specifically defended the changes to downtown Redwood City.

“Although these changes have appeared to come too quickly, the vison of what we enjoy today actually began about 20 years ago with a small group of us who saw Redwood City’s potential and moved this vision forward,” Howard said.

The result is “the wholesale change in how others view our city from … a sleepy place with not much to offer, to now, where we are the envy of the Peninsula.”

First elected in 1994, Howard served through 2009, took a break from the council, and was re-elected in 2013.

She sounded a cautionary note about the 2017 decision by the council to synch its election with this November’s statewide gubernatorial ballot.

In the early 1990s, the council moved to off-year, odd-year elections after a statewide ballot that featured 16 city council candidates. The top- vote-getters happened to be four of the five candidates listed first on the ballot, she said.

Since then, elections officials routinely alternate the order of the candidates on the ballot to avoid that kind of advantage, but Howard said the return to the statewide ballot means even harder work to avoid the same kind of outcome.

“I need your help in getting the word out to those voters who might otherwise cast their ballot by using their pen as a dart,” she said.

Between an early campaign walking piece and those in attendance, Howard is endorsed by a wide range of prominent community leaders, including Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, County Coroner Robert Foucrault, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, council candidate Rick Hunter and former mayors Brent Britschgi, Dani Gasparini, Jeff Ira and Barbara Pierce, the latter also serving as Howard’s campaign manager.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Photo: SamTrans