Caltrain board approves 3-county governance proposal

Last week, the Caltrain board voted to approve a proposal for a 3-county governance agreement.  The proposal will be used to create a memorandum of understanding that will guide updates to the Joint Powers Agreement that sets up Caltrain’s governance – the multi-step process to complete the agreement is slated to continue through 2023.

The new agreement adds several provisions to the outlines discussed at the previous board meeting, which will confirm a standalone executive director role for Caltrain, complete the repayment to SamTrans agreed in 2008, and clarify the agency structure with a set of dedicated rail employees plus a set of shared services.  The new provisions are:

  • An additional $15M payment from SFMTA and VTA to SamTrans in recognition of the long time since the 2008 repayment commitment and reductions in the scope of the managing agency responsibilities
  • An escrow account for both payments until the JPA is amended
  • Four additional positions reporting to Caltrain in public affairs, finance, real estate, and grants
  • The development of an explicit shared services agreement for the services provided by SamTrans (the current practice is an informal agreement that is reported and audited)
  • A process to confirm and complete the agreement (see chart below)

All three member agencies – SamTrans, VTA, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will need to approve the MOU. The proposed schedule includes member agency approval by September, and then an to update to the Joint Powers agreement, which is outlined to take through 2023

However, the Caltrain board vote to approve the agreement was 8:1, with Director Stone representing SamTrans voting no.  Directors Pine and Gee, who also serve on the SamTrans board, voted yes.   Stone objected to a number of provisions, including the escrow account for the payment that MTC has already agreed to provide; and the additional staff positions that will add additional costs at a time when Caltrain and other transit agencies face budget risks with the slow recovery from the pandemic.

Other board members who had earlier expressed strong opinions, including Director Walton of San Francisco and Director Chavez of Santa Clara County stated their support for the agreement. 

The next step to watch is the discussion at the SamTrans board, where the board members had differing opinions.