Updated on September 25, 2018 to include date of oral argument.
Nearly two years after Santa Clara County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements, a previously dismissed lawsuit challenging the measure is going to court on appeal.
The legal challenge was launched by a single Saratoga resident, ostensibly with no other support in addition to her lawyer. (Cheriel Jensen v. Santa Clara Transportation Authority, et al.) Both parties (VTA and Jensen) have effectively filed for oral argument in court. Oral arguments are now scheduled for Tuesday, October 9.
In the meantime, funds collected from the measure, totaling more than $220 million dollars so far, are required to be kept in an escrow account until the suit is resolved.
The measure drew a whopping 72% of the vote when voters approved it in November 2016. Collection of the half-cent cent sales tax began in April 2017.
VTA got started immediately laying the groundwork to fund the myriad of projects approved by the voters as transportation priorities for Santa Clara County. These projects range from local streets and roads repair, bicycle/pedestrian improvements, and building Caltrain grade separations to funding Phase II of the BART extension into Downtown San Jose and Santa Clara.
The lawsuit withholds funding (in 2017 dollars) from all nine program categories that the voters approved:
- Local Street and Roads $1.2 billion
- BART Silicon Valley Phase II $1.5 billion
- Bicycle/Pedestrian Program $250 million
- Caltrain Corridor Capacity Improvements $314 million
- Caltrain Grade Separations $700 million
- County Expressways $750 million
- Highway Interchanges $750 million
- State Route 85 Corridor $350 million
- Transit Operations $500 million
Total $6.3 billion
Just in fiscal year 2018-2019, if the money were available, local cities and Santa Clara County would have been eligible for reimbursement of almost $290 million for transportation infrastructure projects. That’s in addition to a one-time advance distribution for Local Streets and Roads improvements totaling more than $9.5 million.
VTA is committed to meeting the transportation needs of the residents and businesses of Santa Clara County and stands ready to begin funding voter-approved projects and programs contained in 2016 Measure B as soon as the lawsuit is resolved.
In the meantime, VTA has developed guidelines on how to implement each of the nine program categories and how those dollars should be spent.
Most recently, a Master Agreement between VTA and all of the cities and the County for Local Streets and Roads is in the final development stage and will be distributed to our partner agencies for their review.
For the Bicycle and Pedestrian program category, we are making progress on two sub-programs: A description for the Education & Encouragement category is under development, and VTA is working closely with the County of Santa Clara to develop countywide Education & Encouragement efforts. The Capital Projects Competitive Grant Program is moving forward as a 10-year program, and its structure and process have been developed. Determining the criteria for this grant program is the next step.
Additionally, VTA is working with our partner agencies to finalize the scope for the Caltrain Grade Separation Implementation Study, which will help us figure out how to deliver all eight Caltrain Grade Separation projects. We are also working with Santa Clara County to identify roles and responsibilities for work that will be done for the County Expressway program category.
Stay tuned for updates on the status of the lawsuit.