June 05--The Palo Alto City Council is calling on the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to push for a three-eighth-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects in Santa Clara County.
That's more than the quarter-cent increase the public policy business trade organization is eyeing for the fall ballot.
According to Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a sales tax increase is needed to finish bringing BART to San Jose, as well as address other transportation needs in the county. A quarter-cent increase is expected to generate $3.5 billion over 30 years.
The council, however, isn't satisfied with the approximately $500 million Caltrain would receive under the proposal and on Wednesday night voted 8-0, with Mayor Nancy Shepherd absent, to send a letter to Guardino urging his organization to instead pursue a three-eighths-cent increase.
The additional $1.75 billion generated would go exclusively to Caltrain, according to the letter.
The money would be spent on a host of improvements, including grade separations and longer platforms that are needed to make the connection between BART and Caltrain seamless.
"Caltrain is the spine of Silicon Valley," Councilman Greg Scharff said. "Without Caltrain, we couldn't have mobility. By having the extra one-eighth cent, we solve the issues of Caltrain for the most part."
However, Councilman Greg Schmid said he didn't think the letter drafted by the Policy and Services Committee was strong enough. In the event the council's proposal is not accepted, he said proceeds from the quarter-cent increase should be divided evenly between BART and Caltrain.
"I read it and it seems as though it's a little too polite," Schmid said about the one-page letter.
With the exception of Karen Holman, the council was not in favor of swapping in more forceful language. Scharff and Councilman Larry Klein said an even split would shortchange the BART-to-San Jose extension project, the impetus for the organization's proposal. In addition, road repairs and enhanced services for seniors would fall by the wayside.
"We're not anywhere near any type of deadlock or anything of that nature where a tough sound would be appropriate," Klein said.
"These are people that we're trying to reach agreement with. Nobody has said no to anything yet. We're a long way from final resolution of this. In general in these situations, it pays to be polite."
Scharff added that the council would have another opportunity to weigh in if its proposal is rejected.
"Right now this is a negotiation to get this," he said about the proposal. "If we get this, it will be so huge."
Vice Mayor Liz Kniss warned that Palo Alto may find itself alone in the north end of the county in supporting any kind of sales tax increase. She said a conference call with neighboring elected officials Wednesday revealed stiff opposition to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's proposal.
"We're probably the most zealous about wanting the extra eighth of a cent," Kniss said. "I'm going to hope if that doesn't pan out that we will still support the one-quarter cent. I'd rather have something at the end than nothing at all."
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