Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 24, 2006

Devastated by mayor’s BART vote

Disappointed is too mild a word for my reaction when I read that Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy cast his second vote in favor of a sales tax to bail out BART.

Kennedy, a member of the Valley Transportation Authority’s Policy Advisory Committee, voted again last week to endorse plan to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot to raise money needed to pay for the ever-ballooning BART-to-San Jose extension price tag.

BART supporters are busy trying to woo VTA board members from non-BART-benefitting cities to support the sales tax measure with promises of projects in their areas.

I was especially disconcerted – that’s a better word, but I’m not there yet – after Kennedy, who also sits on the VTA Board of Directors, sounded so cautious and sensible earlier this month when the VTA suddenly “found” $2 billion with the help of optimistic sales tax projections made by a Palo Alto-based group: “… We need to be very cautious because it looks to good to be true, and when something looks too good to be true, it often is.”

In September, the VTA also upwardly revised its ridership projections for the BART extension – by a whopping 33 percent.

So if the sales tax projections are too good to be true, if ridership projections are suspicious, and if extending BART to San Jose won’t help South County residents, why would Kennedy vote to endorse the sales tax plan?

“I view that action as not meaning a heck of a lot,” Kennedy told reporter Matt King.

I beg to differ. It means a lot. By voting to endorse the sales tax plan, Kennedy blunts the anti-BART momentum that has been building in recent months.

This is a critical time at the VTA. Kennedy recently replaced Milpitas City Councilman Bob Livengood on the 12-member VTA board of directors. Livengood was a staunch supporter of extending BART because the proposed route runs through his city. Because of the ridiculous VTA board structure, Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Milpitas share one seat that rotates among the cities.

Not only that, San Jose Mayor and chief BART booster Ron Gonzales is no longer on the VTA board of directors, thanks to his garbage contract ethics scandal. Gonzales’ departure signals an opportunity to change the culture of the VTA board.

That opportunity is enhanced by Mountain View’s recent appointment of staunch BART opponent City Councilman Greg Perry to the VTA board.

So with anti-BART momentum building, what does Kennedy do? He votes yes in subcommittee to endorse the BART sales tax plan.

I was devastated.

I understand that there’s enormous political pressure on all VTA board members from the likes of Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to support the BART extension.

If I believed the VTA could afford to both build and operate a BART-to-San Jose extension without shortchanging the rest of the region, I’d be all for it.

But it can’t, and those suspiciously timed rosy sales tax and ridership projections offer me no comfort.

Kennedy must vote in the best interest of those people he represents: South County.

“The decision needs to be ours and not his,” Morgan Hill City Councilman Greg Sellers said of Kennedy’s BART votes. “The concern I have is that there has not been a consistent message, there has not been a consistent path followed on this. You don’t become a player because no one knows where you stand.”

Here’s where I stand: We cannot afford to build or operate BART. If the VTA Board of Directors would drop the ill-fated extension from its list of projects, its would have billions to fund better, cheaper and more geographically equitable public transportation solutions. If the VTA goes ahead with the BART extension, I predict that cost overruns, low ridership and disappointing sales tax revenues will mean that many, if not all, promises for South County projects will be broken.

In this matter, Kennedy represents all of South County, not just Morgan Hill. I urge all South County residents to let him know how they feel about another sales tax to enable the VTA to spend billions of dollars to build a BART extension that not only doesn’t help them, but likely hurts them.

Here’s how to reach him:
17555 Peak Avenue
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Phone: 779-7259
Email: dennis.kennedy@morgan-hill.ca.gov

Mr. Mayor, please vote no on the BART sales tax, and advocate removing the project from the VTA’s list of priorities. Don’t disappoint South County again on this one.

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