Caltrain tax advances in SF and SCC – Santa Clara County Supervisor Simitian asks for a legal ruling

Yesterday, the Caltrain tax took two steps forward in San Francisco and Santa Clara County, with important questions about the legality of some proposed conditions being investigated.

In Santa Clara County, the vote was deferred until August 6th because Supervisor Ellenberg was absent for the agenda item. There were about 15 largely enthusiastic public commenters expressing support for Caltrain as transit users depending on the service, to support progress on housing, to keep car traffic from returning and fight climate change.

Your blogger spoke and supported the equity policies that the Caltrain board is set to approve which would be funded by the tax, and help provide access to Caltrain for people with less money.

Supervisor Supervisors Chavez and Cortese expressed support for Caltrain and reiterated goals for governance reform.  

Supervisor Simitian supported the measure, but wanted to get a ruling from Santa Clara County Council.  This will be important to clear up the legal questions that have been raised about the version of the ballot measure resolution that was introduced the same day in San Francisco.  All of the 7 boards will need to support the same resolution in order to allow the measure on the ballot.

Before the meeting, Senator Jerry Hill, who had authored SB797, the bill that enabled the Caltrain tax, sent a letter to the Santa Clara County Supervisors saying that the ballot measure resolution language that was being introduced in San Francisco, and had been supported by Mayor Sam Liccardo in social media statements, does not comply with the language of the bill he wrote in 2017.  “Attaching new conditions that limit Caltrain’s ability to access these revenues is well outside of what is allowed under SB 797.”   SB797 calls for “net revenues from the tax to be used by the board for operating and capital purposes of the Caltrain rail service.”

SamTrans lawyers also had also issued a letter that in their opinion the conditions proposed in SF would not comply with SB797.

In San Francisco, Supervisors Walton, Peskin Haney introduced the resolution and referred it to committee.  The exact date and process for how the measure will be heard by SFBoS is still being finalized. One option is a “Committee of the Whole” meeting of the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday June 28.  

The version introduced in San Francisco included conditions that provided 35% of the funding to Caltrain for up to 2 years, with a set of conditions for use of the rest of the funds, including supermajority votes in the first two years and governance change thereafter.

The SFMTA, which had been scheduled to vote yesterday, deferred their vote to until July 31st, after the vote of the Board of Supervisors..

As it stands, the schedule for approvals to get the measure on the ballot is:

  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors, June 28, 9:30am (tentative)
  • SFMTA, July 31, 1pm
  • Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, August 6, 9:30am
  • Caltrain Board, August 6, 9am
  • VTA Board, August 6, 5:30pm

Thought to be dead after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors refrained from introducing the measure last Tuesday, the Caltrain ballot measure has been revived following massive press attention to the risk of losing Caltrain service and over 1000 letters from constituents written to Supervisors in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties that we know of (not counting letters sent by individuals who weren’t using action tools).