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SFMTA Board Nixes “Dirty” Caltrain Measure

In a surprise development, the SFMTA board voted Friday against the Board of Supervisor's conditional approval of a 1/8-cent Caltrain sales tax measure for the November ballot. Streetsblog readers will recall that on Tuesday a "dirty" version of the measure, written by Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton, was approved by the Board of Supervisors despite objections by some 40 rider advocates.

Streetsblog spoke with SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman, the lone vote against the measure: "It was not an easy decision," she said. As to the Board of Supervisors and the Peskin/Walton provisions, "I felt that the discussions that I heard had not talked about the riders of Caltrain at all."

The SFMTA Board, which currently has only four members, needed a unanimous vote to achieve a quorum and clear the measure. Brinkman said they will meet again next week to see if they can achieve some kind of reconciliation between the Peskin/Walton version and the version previously approved by the San Mateo Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, questions about the legality of the Peskin and Walton version continue. Their version requires a super-majority of the Caltrain Board to approve governance reforms before the predicted $108 million raised annually by the tax can be used. Counsel for SamTrans wrote that the amendments would be subject to legal challenges, likely invalidating the tax, because they do not conform to the authorizing legislation from Sacramento, SB 797.

Or as Dave Pine, who sits on the SamTrans board put it in a tweet "...the SF Board of Supervisors approved an alternative sales tax measure that is illegal, unwinnable at the polls, and unworkable for Caltrain. Unless amended, this poison pill means the Caltrain sales tax is now dead which puts the railroad in great peril."

Further revisions introduced Tuesday made it "less illegal than the previous draft," opined Friends of Caltrain's Adina Levin.

San Francisco's City Attorney would not release its opinion, citing attorney-client privilege. However, “The City Attorney’s Office has reviewed San Francisco’s Caltrain proposal and determined that it is legal," wrote Natalie Gee, Chief of Staff for Walton. "The central issue here is not about legality. The central issue of Caltrain governance should have been addressed by the Joint Powers Board as a matter of policy. We now have a path to letting the voters decide--the ball is in San Mateo’s court."

From a Caltrain presentation, given to the SFMTA, on the breakdown of the proposed tax measure. Image: Caltrain
From a Caltrain presentation, given to the SFMTA, on the breakdown of the proposed tax measure. Image: Caltrain
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But thanks to the SFMTA vote, "the ball" remains in San Francisco's court. "It’s dead for the moment, but they expect to come back to SFMTA on Wed. so it is not completely dead, but it’s unwell," said Levin.

Santa Clara's Board of Supervisors also has to vote to approve the competing measures. Ultimately, all three Boards have to agree on the same measure--and time is quickly running out; the deadline to get on the November ballot is August 7.

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