Transport Tax Dies; Guardino Defends SVLG Poll Tactics

A transportation measure that intended to raise the local sales tax for 30 years will have to wait until 2016. Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), said that new polling conducted after the June 3 primary projects a lower voter turnout in November than initially expected.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, but when it’s the right thing to do, you pick the timing that’s going to have the best results,” Guardino said by phone.

But according to several sources who spoke to San Jose Inside on the condition of anonymity, the dynamics of an expedited tax measure during a heated San Jose mayor's race—and a lack of support from Valley Transportation Authority officials—has far more to do with bumping the measure than any new polling.

The tone of Guardino's comments and an email he sent supporters Wednesday morning is starkly different from those he made just a couple months ago—or even a week ago—after a Leadership Group poll suggested overwhelming support for an infrastructure tax.

San Jose Inside reported last week that Guardino's tax measure could run into roadblocks at the county level, as his support of San Jose mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo could be a dealbreaker for supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, the latter of whom is also running for mayor in the November runoff. Guardino could have gone to the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) to get the measure on the ballot, but sources say he was unsuccessful in rallying support in such a short time frame. The VTA would need to approve the measure going to the November ballot by the end of this month, and ballot language would need to be finalized by early August.

Also, not having the full-throated support of several county electeds—and the implied support of their labor union backers—most likely would’ve killed the measure.

Guardino offered to go over the Leadership Group's polling with San Jose Inside before the primary election, but he refused to present the entire poll. This is not uncommon in political races. People prefer to show the media information that makes their candidate or measure look best. But what's left out is sometimes as interesting—if not more interesting—than what's presented.

For example, many people might be surprised, or even angered, to learn that Guardino provided confidential parts of the SVLG poll to an independent expenditure committee supporting Liccardo's mayoral run. Guardino, who is helping to organize that independent expenditure committee, says he provided the information to the pro-Liccardo group, which is why a $1,980 expenditure was noted on May 8.

"We did it out of an overabundance of caution since I saw that overall poll, and therefore knew the numbers," Guardino said. "We paid separately for that information, so that no one could in any way say there was a campaign expense that was not 100 percent legal."

The expenditure report, however, makes it appear as though the committee conducted the poll, leaving the source of payment still under question. Guardino said he paid the committee that money, in addition to a $2,000 personal contribution, but it would seem more appropriate for the committee to pay the Leadership Group, since Guardino didn’t self-fund the poll.

“I paid for [the committee expenditure], rather than the Leadership Group,” he told San Jose Inside. "I realized that question (from the poll) is something that would be in my memory, in terms of the answer, so I had better pay for that."

[UPDATE: Guardino clarified the previous statement in an email Wednesday afternoon. "I paid the money (personal funds) through the IE to the polling company, as I had seen the question in the Leadership Group poll," he wrote. "Again, as an over-abundance of caution, buying that question was and is meant to reflect that since I had seen that information, I (through the IE) should pay the pollster for it."]

When asked if he received approval from the SVLG board to provide confidential polling information to a particular candidate's supporters, Guardino said, “No, because I didn’t need to.”

Herein lies the tricky aspect of accepting independent polling on anything, especially billion-dollar tax measures—there's no guarantee everyone is putting all their cards on the table. Guardino said he would not have discussed or provided the SVLG’s polling on the mayor’s race to the county or VTA.

“No. It has nothing to do with the (tax) measure,” he said. “It’s a private poll, that we can share nothing or whatever we would like to share. Find me a private organization that has a different policy."

Guardino added that all of the poll's questions and answers related to transportation have been provided to media and stakeholders. But how can we be sure?

He refused to talk about recent conversations he's had with labor officials about the proposed measure, which would have increased the sales tax by a 1/4-cent for the next 30 years. Sources have told San Jose Inside that there were negotiations to rally support if Guardino would remove himself from the independent committee supporting Liccardo.

"It looks highly suspicious, as if someone cooked up some numbers for a new poll because they didn’t want to move forward," said a source with decades of polling experience on state transportation measures.

Guardino refused to answer questions about conversations or negotiations he has had to rally support in the last week.

"Unless you're giving me names of people who have said things to you on the record, I'm not going to let cowards stand behind anonymous comments," he said, avoiding the question.

Guardino later added in his conversation with San Jose Inside: “If you have a question anything labor has asked (me), you should be asking labor.”

A message left with the South Bay Labor Council's spokesperson, Stacey Hendler Ross, was not immediately returned.

Below is the email Guardino sent out to supporters Wednesday morning:

Thank you for your support and for helping fund the transportation survey for a potential measure that we continue to explore here at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.  

As we have discussed, our Board and Members included the potential to help lead such a measure in our "Rolling 3-year business plan" last December, as we consider our major efforts for 2014 through 2016.  

While our initial plan was for a measure in November, 2016 (a Presidential General Election Year), results from the Leadership Group's "Annual Public Policy Poll" in early April indicated that we would want to at least seriously explore the possibility of accelerating the conversations to consider moving forward as early as this November, 2014.

We waited until after the June 3 Primary in order to conduct another thorough "Public Opinion Poll" to help us decide whether this November would be our best opportunity, or to continue the original focus on November, 2016.  We intentionally waited until after the June 3 Primary so that our poll could more accurately reflect the "voter turn-out model" for this November, based on the turn-out model for the June 3 Primary.  As you know, the June 3 Primary turn-out was among the lowest in CA History, which does not bode well for a tax measure of any type.

We just received the poll results back (600 sample size) from our most recent survey, conducted Friday, June 6 through Tuesday, June 10.  Based on the adjusted turn-out model that we now expect for November, 2016 (as low as 50 percent of registered voters - rather than the normal 60 percent for a Gubernatorial General Election), we have recommended to the Leadership Group Board of Directors that we not proceed this November, but once again set our sights on November of 2016.  At this morning's Leadership Group Board of Director's meeting, our Board agreed with the recommendation to focus our efforts on November of 2016.  We will continue to engage our own 392 Member Companies and the broader community of stakeholders to fashion a measure that best serves our Valley, for action in 2016.

I am happy to discuss this with you in greater depth, either by responding to your follow-up email, or by phone (Editor's note: These numbers were removed).  

We have made considerable progress in identifying key traffic, transit and transportation needs that any new measure should fund - and a committed, broad-based coalition of diverse leaders who will work for a future measure's success.  However, we will have the patience and judgment to wait for the right election cycle to move forward on the ballot.

Thanks again for your leadership and commitment to both the quality of life and economic strength of our Valley.  It is a pleasure to work with you, and we look forward to continuing our partnership.

Kind Regards,


Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. I hope this tax dies forever. Every year the sales tax goes up; it is death from a thousand cuts Sales tax here is an ungodly 8.75%. And we just increased the Vehicle Registration Fee to pay for road repairs. If more money needs to be raised, it should come from Carl Guardino and his merry band of crony capitalists.