We have an important vote coming up at City Council on Jan. 28 when we will decide whether to discuss a memo I authored, along with my colleagues, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Dev Davis and Pam Foley. We are calling on VTA to keep its commitment to the voters who approved 2016’s Measure B by making it clear that they will not divert funds intended to reduce traffic congestion or repair local streets.
As you may recall, Measure B was approved in November 2016 with 71.74% of the vote. The ballot text explicitly committed a portion of the measure’s revenue to “repair[ing] streets, fix[ing] potholes [and]…reliev[ing] traffic on all 9 expressways and key highway interchanges”.
Unfortunately, with the New Year it appears that there is a new (and disastrous) idea gaining traction at the VTA Board of Directors that has the potential to repurpose the highway and streets funding that we were promised.
During public comment at the Dec. 5 VTA Board of Directors meeting, activists were very vocal in seeking to divert desperately-needed highway funding in favor of the measure’s other transit priorities. In reaction to this public comment, Supervisor Dave Cortese, a member of the VTA Board, directed VTA staff to come back with a declaration of a Climate Emergency on Feb. 6. If the talk of creating and passing this Climate Emergency resolution becomes a reality, a total of $2 billion in highway improvements and street repairs could be diverted.
Measure B already programs over $1 billion for Caltrain improvements and $500 million for expanded and improved transit operations – namely bus and paratransit service to senior, disabled, transit-dependent and other vulnerable populations.
Let me be clear: Mass transit options and carbon emissions reductions are important regional priorities. Therefore, we must commit to delivering transportation projects as described in the clear language of Measure B. A Climate Emergency declaration must not be used to change these voter-approved priorities. After all, public transit, especially busses, rely on quality streets and efficient highways to fulfill their function in getting cars off the street and reducing carbon emissions.
VTA isn’t just a transit agency — it’s also the county’s congestion management agency. VTA already struggles to adequately address congestion; diverting funds from our congested highways will only exacerbate the issue.
As an elected official, I have committed my tenure in office to promoting transparent and honest government. It is my hope that Cortese and the entirety of the board share my convictions and see to it that the measure remain untouched. I call upon all county taxpayers to show their support for our highways and roads at VTA’s upcoming Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9.
Without healthy roads and highways, you and I won’t be getting anywhere in time, by transit or by car.
Johnny Khamis is a San Jose councilmember first elected in 2012 to represent District 10, which spans Almaden and Blossom valleys.