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Extreme Measures

Running the gamut from taxing to tame, San Jose 's ballot measures could have regional impact this election

Measure A
Transit Project Sales Tax: YES

THE VALLEY'S LIVABILITY is on a fast track to hell without a bold initiative to get people out of their gas-burning boxes and into air-conditioned, modern, electric-powered rail transit cars. Measure A embodies the leadership and vision needed to catalyze that transformation.

It will bring BART to downtown San Jose, extend light rail service to the East Side, electrify Caltrain from Palo Alto to Gilroy and improve bus service. Its authors say it will also indirectly help motorists, not only by getting cars off the road but by freeing up $2 billion for street and highway improvements and repairs.

Valley residents have paid a price for San Jose's shortsightedness in the 1950s, when provincial minds rejected a plan to bring a Bay Area Rapid Transit line here. The consequence has been L.A.-style sprawl, a lagging urban culture and intolerable traffic congestion. We have a chance not to look like boneheads to our great-grandchildren.

Best of all, Measure A is not a new tax--just a continuation of the present local sales tax that successfully completed the valley's freeway system.

While in an ideal world business would pay a greater share of solving the traffic problems it generates by building big parking lots and facilitating peak-time commutes, it's reality that a half-cent sales tax is the most practical and painless way of raising a few billion dollars for public projects.

Measure A has broad support, but a few shrill voices have come forward to attack the measure. The A-pponents scream that "powerful politicians" are behind the measure, an argument that's irrefutable but is little more than faux populism when it is signed by the head of the county Board of Supervisors and two of his colleagues. We are talking basically about a handful of pissed-off politicians who want to deliver some fat construction projects to their political supporters, or build more highways to promote development and sprawl. They can find the money elsewhere to build bikeways, synchronize traffic lights, fill potholes and do the other things they want to do with transit sales tax revenues.

Their disingenuously named "community-based process" proposal is a bureaucratic sausage, 100 percent pure pork posing as veal. Fact is, they have no proposal, and are scrambling to come up with one to put on the ballot in a year or two. Who knows, maybe this brilliant bunch can come up with a much better plan than the Valley Transportation Authority, a board appointed by the valley's cities to study and solve transportation issues. Or maybe not.

The risks of not passing Measure A are too great to gamble with. The county could lose up to $1 billion in state funds committed for transit improvements here. A failed initiative will also be harder to return to the voters a second time. And political wisdom dictates placing a measure such as this on the ballot in a high turnout presidential election year. Low turnout elections generally are less kind to initiatives that help people of modest means.

Measure A must win two-thirds approval, and polls by the initiative's backers indicate a close race. So while your vote for Gore, Bush, Nader or Buchanan will probably not change your life a great deal, Measure A's results can determine whether you'll be able to take a train to a ballgame or concert, the quality of the air you'll breathe, whether you'll be late to appointments because of traffic snarls, or how much time you'll get to spend with your kids.

It's time for the valley to get serious about building a modern urban transit system. Measure A will do just that.

The forces that built the world's greatest technology center are not about to disappear, so we might as well deal with it--or deal with the effects of our own shortsightedness. If Measure A loses--and every vote counts in a two-thirds majority election--you'll be hatin' life when you're idling on the freeway and wishing you were somewhere else.

Measure B
Flood Control Tax: NO

Everyone can agree that flood control is important. But when flood control comes at the expense of taxpayers by a water district that has no clear-cut plan on how it will spend their money, there's a problem.

Under Measure B, the Santa Clara Valley Water District pledges to restore creeks to their natural splendor, fund creek maintenance, improve flood protection and ensure clean, safe water. Measure B would tax single residential parcels on a quarter-acre a maximum $39 a year, raising a total $25 million annually. The tax would be applied countywide and sunset in 15 years.

Opponents of the measure--Friends of Calabazas Creek (FOCC), Western Waters Canoe Club, Silichip Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group and Silicon Valley Creeks Coalition, Creeks Council--have several gripes with the proposed measure. Their chief complaint is the absence of a clear plan, one that outlines how the tax-generated revenue will be spent on proposed projects.

Another complaint by the FOCC is that what the district has estimated, in the Calabazas Creek for example, is beyond financial reach. The estimated total is $35 million, a number far too expensive for a 3.3-mile stretch of land, says the FOCC. But SCVWD board chairman Greg Zlotnick explains that the money, while costly in terms of interest, pays for a variety of services, geomorphic analyses, engineering studies--everything to determine the cause of some of the problems with the county's creeks.

We agree with FOCC and its allies that the water district hasn't done a good job explaining how it will spend the money. We suggest you vote no on Measure B.

Measure K
Hillside Protection: YES

There's a good reason to vote yes on Measure K--just think "Los Angeles."

As Santa Clara County's physical landscape continues to transform from the bucolic orchards of yesteryear to today's concrete stretches housing high-tech, the valley's growth could easily go the way of our SoCal sister--that is, in every possible direction the eye (and real estate) can see.

Nearly two decades ago, the San Jose City Council adopted a "greenline" to confine urban sprawl and encourage compact development within existing urban areas. And let's get pedantic: boundaries are just that--they are limited borders.

Measure K would ensure voters have the ultimate say in maintaining those boundaries in order to preserve the city's open space. As the policy now stands, a majority of the City Council--who get plenty of campaign contributions from developers--can change those boundaries.

By voting for Measure K, the public can ensure its say in protecting the greenline and keeping rural areas rural.

Measure O
Library Bond: YES

Libraries. Remember them? They're where kids go to study, teens go to research, and grown-ups who don't want to spend their IPO-stake at Barnes & Noble go to get reading material. With all the hoopla about that newfangled Internet, libraries still reign as G-spots for cerebral stimulation. Possibly because every branch is powered by DSL and shelves full of dead-tree publications.

Yet, like all things in society worth underwriting--schools and decent medical care, for example--the city's libraries rank low on the tax-receiving totem pole.

Measure O would cut loose about $212 million bucks to shore up our aging libraries, build a half-dozen new branches and, yes, triple the number of Internet-ready computers in each branch. Funded by 30-year city bonds, it will cost the average homeowner about 75 cents a week or, in Silicon Valley-speak, point-three-oh-six of the total net worth of a tall Frappuccino.

Given the cost-benefit analysis, one would think Measure O would be a shoo-in. But that's because one wouldn't index in the stupid two-thirds vote requirement and homeowners terrified that the minor bump in their tax bill will no longer allow them to afford the important things in life. Like satellite TV or a new SUV.

Measure P
Parks Bond: YES

Anyone who has kids knows that parks, aside from being pretty patches of green, are an integral place for the family to unwind. But while San Jose's population has doubled in the past 30 years, its parks and community centers have become overcrowded and noticeably rundown. From picnicking areas to baseball fields and restrooms, our parks need more than a facelift--they need renovation and a community that continues to safeguard its neighborhoods.

Measure P will make safety upgrades to playgrounds, add new sports fields, install proper lighting in parks and add 164,000 square feet to community and senior centers. It will also extend a number of trails and improve regional parks such as Happy Hollow Zoo and Almaden Lake. And good news for parents trailing little Johnny around on the jungle gyms: The bathrooms will be fixed too.

The measure would sell just over $228 million in general obligation bonds toward the costs of rehabilitation. A new property tax would be levied on the city's taxable property to pay off the bonds' interest, but those taxes would cost the average homeowner less than 80 cents a week. Not much, considering the price of a can of Coke.

Giving Props Things are not always as they appear, and the ballot is no exception. Metro weighs in on the state propositions.

Get Out the Vote: Metro's quick voting guide.

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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