Lawsuit Freezes $6 Billion Santa Clara County Transportation Tax

Santa Clara County voters last year overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax to invest more than $6 billion in transportation infrastructure. Measure B, a 30-year tax that began raking in revenue for the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) this year, promised to bring BART to downtown San Jose, upgrade Caltrain and highways, and bolster the region’s network of bicycle and pedestrian paths. Though the measure won more support than any transit tax in county history, one woman is on a mission to stop it. Litigation filed earlier this year by Cheriel Jensen, a retired urban planner from Saratoga who once sued Santa Clara County over its mosquito fogging, is holding Measure B hostage—all $40 million collected to date. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, vice chair of the VTA board, decried the lawsuit as an attempt by one person “to exploit the judicial process” against the will of the voting public. The crux of Jensen’s claim is that the measure’s language was too broad. In an interview with Fly, however, she said her real contention involves an “ancient aquifer” beneath the site of the planned BART station downtown. “They’ll start digging and they’ll find that the earth will start to collapse, and the water will be out of control, which means the cost of what they’re doing is going to skyrocket,” said Jensen, who used to work for the county and the city of San Jose, where she said she studied maps of the aquifer. “It’s never going to work,” she added. Though a judge dismissed her claim earlier this summer, she appealed to a higher court, which may drag things on for another year or more. VTA spokeswoman Linh Hoang said VTA will sock away all Measure B tax revenue in escrow until the court releases the funds. But the cost of the holdup is mind-boggling, she noted, and will only mount over time with the price of labor and materials. Hoang cited a Duke University estimate that every $1 billion invested in transportation creates roughly 22,000 jobs. By that count, Jensen is preventing the VTA from putting more than 108,000 people to work—an enormous boost to the local economy.

The lawsuit—available online here—withholds funding in 2017 dollars from all Measure B programs, namely the following:

  • BART Silicon Valley Phase II—$1.5 billion
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian Program—$250 million
  • Caltrain Corridor Capacity—$314 million
  • Caltrain Grade Separations—$700 million
  • County Expressways—$750 million
  • Highway Interchanges—$750 million
  • Local Street and Roads—$1.2 billion
  • State Route 85 Corridor—$350 million
  • Transit Operations—$500 million

Send a tip to The Fly

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

16 Comments

  1. Every single estimate is so grossly over reached that Liccardo and his Pancho Economic thiefs will make a fortune for their Bandito friends. Better spend the money on the 300,000 shoeless, homeless and hungery DACAS pretending to be little children but getting welfare, disability, education loans, Medicaid and a ton of other benefits. Santa Clara County has a huge minority employment that has taken control of the Treasury. Benefits and perks for all. Congress won’t change the DACA lsituation so so long my little DACA SCAMMERS.

    • Nothing you’ve said makes sense. First, the city (and especially not Mayor Liccardo) didn’t make the estimate; CalTrans did. Second DACA enrollees aren’t eligible for any of the services you’ve stated. Please educate yourself before speaking out publicly.

  2. > her real contention involves an “ancient aquifer” beneath the site of the planned BART station downtown. “They’ll start digging and they’ll find that the earth will start to collapse, and the water will be out of control, which means the cost of what they’re doing is going to skyrocket,” said Jensen,

    I’m against disturbing ancient aquifers.

    SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT!

  3. > Hoang cited a Duke University estimate that every $1 billion invested in transportation creates roughly 22,000 jobs.

    Public spending should NEVER be justified by job creation. Spending should ONLY be justified because it addresses an IMPORTANT PUBLIC NEED THAT CANNOT OTHERWISE BE ADDRESSED.

    Digging holes and filling them up “creates jobs”, but is a stupid, pointless, waste of money.

    Whenever someone attempts to justify public spending “because it creates jobs”, I IMMEDIATELY assume “stupid, pointless, waste of money.”

    • When it involves tax money there is no net job creation. Every dollar of tax money spent is a dollar of money not available to spend on something else. The 108K jobs number is totally bogus.

      • Not only that,, but because of the various levels at which the government takes its cut of every tax dollar, the one dollar that gets taxed gets returned at a rate of pennies on the dollar.

  4. This is the first I’ve heard about the “ancient aquifer.”

    I read on another board that the lawsuit is principally based on non-compliance by the VTA with California Government Code Section 50075.1 which requires that a local special tax measure state the specific purposes for use of the tax proceeds to be collected and provide that the money will only be used for those specific purposes. The VTA wrote Measure B to create the option of switching the use of the tax proceeds from the stated purposes to any other “prudent” purposes which 3/4th of its Board of Directors might later fancy.

    This makes more sense and reflects the fact that VTA refuses to value engineer it’s big projects like BART, which includes a wasteful and duplicative extension from the San Jose Caltrain station to the Santa Clara Caltrain station, a route currently served by both Caltrain and VTA buses 22 and 522.

  5. some years back when they were putting up the new CH (which would pay for itself in just 50 years) the construction ran into something that might be described as an aquifer. At the corner of 4th and SC – there was a large pump running
    24/7 for weeks taking water from something/someplace underground. Not saying it was an aquifer, could have been an underground lake or a very, very large water main.

  6. One person overruling the vote of the people, It’s done everyday by activist liberal judges, why not a good taxpaying citizen. VTA want to hire 108000 employees that’s unsustainable for any transit system and there is no affordable housing here any way! As for the aquifer it runs under the entire south bay let the water out and the land you live on will sink into the bay like Alveso .

    • Good point. Extending BART into an area that is already served by a train and bus lines is redundant and we are using tax dollars to create jobs for people who don’t live here and there is no housing for them once they get here. This gives land owners the excuse they need to “build more housing” and push residents out.

      We need to quit using taxpayers funds to bring more jobs into an area that lacks residents needed to fill them and work, instead, on raising the living standards of the residents who are here now.

  7. Aquifers? In San Jose?

    Aren’t there “recharge ponds” all over south San Jose, designed by actual engineers, to put water INTO the aquifer?

    Didn’t IBM and Fairchild Semiconductor spend hundreds of bazillion gazillion dollars to pump “contaminated” water OUT of the aquifer into San Francisco bay, which caused the water table to drop, and Willow Glen to sink, and streets to buckle?

    And … didn’t pumping fresh water into San Francisco Bay cause an ecological crisis because it REDUCED the salinity of bay waters and cause certain sensitive marine organisms to feel uncomfortable?

    BART can barely run a transit system, and that may be giving them too much credit. The LAST thing that civilization needs is for BART to be monkeying around with our drinking water.

  8. I can see several issues here: (a) there is a rich history of the failure of gov’t to accurately plan any project. Given that history, why are the VTA complaining instead of actually looking where the aquifer is supposed to be and verify which assertion is true. (b) don’t be lied to about jobs! These are TEMPORARY jobs. They are here only as long as the project is in progress and then they disappear. (c) Also, be very careful about who is being hired for these jobs. Too many illegals are brought in because Americans won’t do the job (not for DIRT wages) is the usual lie. Public Projects by law should only hire citizens unless it can be proven that no one has the specific special knowledge or training to do the required tasks. Do not be trusting of politicians, especially the losers in san Jose, Santa Clara county, and Ca.

  9. The “lawsuit” is not attached. It is a memorandum filed in the lswsuit. The objection to Measure B in the lawsuit evidently is that the measure was written to permit the VTA Board to spend the money on almost anything – promised projects be darned. Plaintiff Jensen gives the example of wasting all of the money trying to extend BART to San Jose and Santa Clara. By 3/4th vote, the VTA Board could do just that.

  10. California’s future:

    Dear Democrats:

    Remember those campaign promises that Democrat politicians made to you about raising your wages and protecting your pensions?

    “CalPERS Slashes Pension Payments To Retirees In Two More California Towns By Up To 90%”

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-09-13/calpers-slashes-pension-payments-retirees-two-more-california-towns-90

    News bulletin: the money is gone. They spent it all. They borrowed until the lenders wouldn’t lend them any more.

    You’re screwed.

Leave a Reply to Paul Hughes Cancel reply