Silicon Valley leaders mull combining housing, transportation ballot measures
Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group speaks at the Capital Club about Faster Bay Area. Photo by Janice Bitters.

    Bay Area business and housing leaders are in talks over whether 2020 is the year when two ballot measures to fund the most critical issues in the region become one.

    The advocates behind the potential regional measures — one on housing and another on transportation — have both been working on separate tracks for years to get their questions on the November ballot. But as the deadline approaches to finalize what residents will vote on, the groups are now “exploring” whether the two initiatives would fare better together following new polling data that suggests that may be the case.

    One measure, known as FASTER Bay Area, is backed by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Bay Area Council and nonprofit urban planning thinktank SPUR and aims to raise $100 billion over 40 years through a sales tax increase and fees paid by major companies specifically to fund transit and transportation.

    The affordable housing measure, called Bay Area Housing For All, backed by a slew of nonprofit and housing organizations, 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.

    Local leaders are thinking about combining the two initiatives into one after recent polling showed the pair of measures wouldn’t likely get enough votes if they showed up separately on the same ballot, according to EMC Research, which conducted the poll in January.

    But if the measures appeared alone, or as a combined measure using the same funding mechanism, the data showed the $110 billion worth in tax measures would have a better chance of winning voter approval, EMC noted in a recent report. Currently, The groups are discussing a one cent sales tax for both initiatives that would remain in place to generate funding until repealed by voters.

    “The hard part is there are a lot of hard parts to come,” said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “The easier part is we’re all adults who are equally concerned about solving these issues to strengthen the Bay Area for 8 million people, and that’s why I’m optimistic.”

    Coming together

    Multiple people who have been part of the conversation about potentially combining the measures stressed this week that the discussions are preliminary. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which helps oversee transit in the nine county Bay Area, heard about the idea Jan. 30 at a scheduled meeting and most commissioners present were supportive, Guardino said.

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who is on the MTC, said in an interview Wednesday he’s in favor of the combining the two initiatives.

    “The public is increasingly getting the fact that these two issues are inextricable,” Liccardo said of housing and transportation. “The fact that their coworker is commuting 90 minutes every morning and night is linked to the fact that the same coworker can’t afford a home in our valley. We need to tackle both challenges together or we will fail at both.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who is also a MTC commissioner, said the trick will be getting buy-in from local leaders across the region. Some of those leaders have in the past resisted levying a sales tax over regional issues rather than controlling the funding within their own city, he said.

    “After more than 20 years as an elected official, the most difficult thing to deal with is when you have multiple parties advocating for really good causes fighting over the same bucket of money,” he said. “No one is bad … and to the contrary, they are both very noble causes and very worthy of a large funding measure.”

    But combining the two initiatives could complicate things.

    The FASTER Bay Area initiative still needs to get legislative approval before the end of June to show up on the ballot, and it must get at least two-thirds of the votes in both the California Senate and Assembly. Sen. Jim Beall, (D-San Jose) has agreed to author the legislation. Getting it on the ballot this year is proving to be a critical move, Guardino said.

    “The warning that the pollster (EMC) gave us, though … was ‘just a heads up, timing is everything, so if you don’t do it in 2020, you’re probably not going to be successful with a gubernatorial rather than a presidential turnout,’ which is a lot lower,”  he said.

    FASTER Bay Area would come with a list of projects that could be delivered within a decade and priorities for the region’s transit agencies, like coordinated connections between the region’s various transit systems and creating new transit lines, potentially including a nine-county rapid bus network that would run in new express lanes across the region.

    Some residents remain skeptical of the current governance of the transit agencies and have cast doubt on whether the tax is needed or would be used effectively.

    Meanwhile, Bay Area Housing For All, which would set aside money to produce, protect and preserve affordable housing, received the legislative approval it needed last year to put the question on the ballot through AB 1487, authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

    The money would be managed by the Association of Bay Area Governments and MTC, which would act as a new Bay Area Housing Finance Authority. Advocates for the the initiative say they’re determined to see a housing measure on the ballot in November.

    “We are in the process of building a robust coalition of community stakeholders across the spectrum of issues,” said JR Starrett, director of advocacy and community engagement for Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, one of the groups behind the initiative. “But ABAG and MTC have been very explicit that … they don’t want a measure in 2020 that would jeopardize a housing measure.”

    Even so, those pushing for the combination say there’s still time to work out the details. FASTER Bay Area must be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor by June 25.

    “These conversations are not sequential, so we have been having them and we will continue to have them with our legislative delegation,” Liccardo said. “While we don’t have much time, we can get this done.”

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


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