Bay Area transit measure delayed as business sector focuses on COVID-19
Iconic journalist Dan Rather joined Joint Venture Silicon Valley's president and CEO Russ Hancock during the annual State of the Valley conference. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

    The novel coronavirus has set back a transit measure that local leaders were pushing to get on the November ballot.

    A measure, known as FASTER Bay Area, to raise an estimated $100 billion for transit investment over the next 40 years, was expected to appear on the ballot near the end of the year, but that won’t happen, according to the influential group behind the initiative.

    The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Bay Area Council and urban planning thinktank SPUR, are the primary backers of the initiative, but FASTER Bay Area needed the support — and the votes — of the state Legislature by late June to appear on the 2020 ballot, an effort that Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) had been championing.

    The novel coronavirus has set that plan off track, the group said Tuesday.

    “This was already an extremely tight timeline, especially as FASTER is proposing a wide variety of transformative policy changes,” the group said in a statement. “With the massive amount of focus that we will need on COVID-19, we were concerned that the critical yet complex elements that are core to FASTER’s mission … were no longer possible in this timeframe.”

    But FASTER Bay Area isn’t going away. The group said it will continue to speak to legislators, voters and other stakeholders to push forward the measure in the future.

    Earlier this year, the group mulled trying to combine the measure with an affordable housing measure backed by a slew of nonprofit and housing organizations.

    That affordable housing measure, called Bay Area Housing For All, would ask residents to vote for a $10 billion measure, potentially a general obligation bond, for housing throughout the nine-county region. It would come with specific requirements for how the money is distributed throughout the Bay Area and how municipalities spend those dollars.

    That housing measure has already received the votes it needed in the Legislature to appear on the ballot in November, and those working on the measure told San José Spotlight last month they were dedicated to getting the measure in front of voters this year.

    Transit advocates pushing for FASTER remain undeterred, however.

    “As we look ahead we remain committed to working together towards a network that is truly seamless, fast, frequent and reliable enough to get people out of their cars; a network that is built based on outcomes that best serve the customers,” the FASTER Bay Area statement said.

    Joint Venture shifts gears

    Meanwhile, other businesses announced they’d jump into the coronavirus response measures Tuesday.

    Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a local thinktank focused on the region’s economy, said it become a matchmaker for businesses trying to respond to the fast-spreading virus and residents impacted by the shut-downs in the region.

    “Now more than ever the region needs to leverage Joint Venture’s data, analysis, convening power and leadership,” Russell Hancock, the organization’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

    Joint Venture released a list of initiatives it would take up for the foreseeable future, including distributing surplus food from closed restaurants and suppliers to families, helping local organizations with communications, planning data analysis and cybersecurity, matching companies with residents in need of equipment as coronavirus shuts down facilities and appealing to its member base to contribute to the Regional Response Fund.

    That fund was created to help organizations and individuals who need money during the “shelter in place” order issued by counties across the region Monday.

    The group has also volunteered its data powerhouse, known as The Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, to gather, analyze and model information on the virus’ long-term economic impact as well as study ways for the region to speed up economic recovery after COVID-19 is deemed under control.

    Joint Venture Silicon Valley releases an annual report on the state of Silicon Valley, which is filled with data to benchmark how the region is doing economically for both business and individuals.

    Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coverage of coronavirus coverage here.

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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