Santa Clara County to Poll Voters on Potential Sales Tax

Starting this week, pollsters will call Santa Clara County voters to see if they’re open to a new sales tax to help the region’s homeless population.

The Board of Supervisors agreed earlier this month to pay $50,000 for the survey, which will measure whether there’s enough support to place a tax measure on the June or November ballot. Come Tuesday, supervisors will decide what questions to include in the survey so they can start collecting feedback before the end of the month.

There’s a tight deadline for the June election. Ballot items are due March 11, which means supervisors will have to make a final decision within the next five weeks.

The poll—offered in English, Vietnamese, Spanish and Chinese—will evaluate support for three potential tax measures. The first, a general tax measure, would direct services to transportation, housing, public safety and healthcare. A second general tax measure would direct funds to transportation projects, including BART, pothole repair, Caltrain upgrades and bike and pedestrian safety and expressway improvements. Third would be a special sales tax specifically for transportation improvements.

Pollsters will call 1,500 residents likely to vote in November and June and compare results from each electorate. Voters will be asked whether they support a half-cent or quarter-cent sales tax for homeless programs.

Here’s a link to the draft survey, which includes 49 questions—some multiple choice and some open-ended. The survey starts with warm-up and screening questions and continues into baseline tests of potential revenue measures. Later in the survey, the questions aim to measure voter attitudes as well as their reaction to potential opposition messaging.

Earlier this month, supervisors approved a $64 million spending plan to tackle homeless issues. That money—which comes in addition to $100 million the county already pegged for homeless services—will pay for housing, case management, treatment programs and counseling for the chronically homeless.

Other local agencies plan to place sales tax measures on the summer or fall ballots. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) may ask voters to approve a half-cent tax to fix roads and finish BART’s South Bay extension.

Voters approved a countywide eighth-cent sales tax in 2012. Measure A, which promised to raise $450 million in its 10-year life, upped the county's sales tax rate to 8.75 percent.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for January 26, 2016:

  • The VTA’s 22 bus runs nonstop from Palo Alto to San Jose, a route that cuts through one of the richest parts of the world. Because it’s the only bus line that runs 24 hours a day, the 22 becomes a de facto homeless shelter at night—especially during the colder winter months. Locals call it “Hotel 22.” Under an agreement up for consideration, the VTA would pay $125,000 to the county’s Office of Supportive Housing to connect some of those homeless passengers with supportive housing and other services. A condition of the contract requires the county to place 20 chronically homeless VTA passengers in supportive housing.
  • Supervisors will hear an update about the fairgrounds master plan, which was the subject of a well-attended community meeting earlier this month. Some 200 people showed up to the Jan. 7 hearing to weigh in on the fairgrounds’ future. Members of 4-H and the Future Farmers of American stressed the importance of continuing to host the annual county fair at the San Jose property. They also asked the county to keep the fairgrounds as a resource for agricultural purposes, possibly converting 30 acres of the site into a “Heritage Farm” and fairgrounds and dividing up the rest among other recreational uses.
  • Hoping to reduce the number of mentally ill people cycling in and out of local jails, the county will join other jurisdictions in a national campaign led by the American Psychiatric Foundation. The “Stepping Up” initiative asks counties to develop a plan with measurable outcomes to help people stay out of jail by offering treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Here’s a link to the resolution.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I continue to be baffled about how polls are conducted, and how the participants are selected. I won’t even get into the way the questions are skewed to achieve the desired responses for the proponents or opponents of an issue about which they commissioned the poll. Poll subjects are often referred to as “likely voters.” I have voted in every single election at every level of government since I first became eligible to vote. That’s 48 YEARS of elections, 40 of which I lived in Santa Clara County. And yet, not once have I been contacted by a pollster. That’s one reason why I do not believe in the accuracy of poll “results”; but I do believe those “results” are used to influence elections by changing the opinions of many voters on the issues after the “results” are published by the mainstream media. Most people are sheep, followers who want to be on the winning side. So, I have no doubt that many voters change their opinion and their vote to conform to the poll “results.”

  2. Taxes for transportation, homeless, wetlands but still no word from Mr. Liccardo how he is going to pay for a fully staffed police department. San Jose residents need to vote no to send a message that public safety should be the first priority for any new taxes in San Jose.

  3. My son called me about 7:00 PST January 25, 2016 to say he had read my comment about polls. He referred me to a website: real clear politics, which summarizes poll results. I logged on to that site at 7:05 p.m. PST January 25, 2016 and saw that poll results about US presidential primaries dated January 26, 2016 were posted. At 7:05 PST on January 25 there is no place in the USA that had hit January 26 yet, but poll results for that date were posted. This confirms my opinion that polls are rigged.

  4. I am really getting frustrated with the “just add more to the sales tax” approach our agencies are doing. VTA wants to add more too. So, should we just make it a cool 10% of every transaction go to some other service? Everyone wants to solve homelessness. How about we add a tax on property owners and renters of 1/2% of their rent or property tax or mortgage to go to help fighting homelessness. After all, we are all in homes, so why can’t that portion of the population pay the bill. We are a bedroom community…why not exploit it.

    Just my gut reaction to the ideas of just adding $ to sales tax. These increases make it harder and harder to actually do business here in the area. I already have people getting cranky about paying as much as they do. Wages are being forced up (I agree with it), workers comp increases, unemployment insurance costs increasing, payroll taxes up, food costs up, etc. Doing business legally and legitimately is hard enough without making every transaction even harder.

    Sales tax is often too easy. We should be spending the money in a wise way. Maybe we have a 1/2% increase and fund an oversight committee to see how effective every dollar of taxes being raised are being spent appropriately!

    • My gut reaction is to tax landlords. Every time they raise the rent to achieve “market-rate” rents they increase the odds that families become homeless. We are now part of a global real estate market. We have a commodity here that people all over the world are willing to pay for. (and then not even come live in). Supply and demand doesn’t apply in the same way here as it is does in an average city in the United States. Market-rate rent here is not even a term that should apply. And please, spare me the comments that keep saying that landlords have a right to make as much money as they want, blah blah blah. Wall Street is now in the business of getting in on the real estate action here in San Jose. Banks have purchased our single-family homes for rentals. Why in the world should I pay more in sales tax? Let the banks, let Wall Street, let all those that purchase real estate here but choose not to live here pay the taxes to house our homeless. They are the ones keeping out people that actually live and work here but can’t pay these insane rents! I keep reading about how “the rents rise”. But rents don’t rise, landlords raise them. There is a sick and twisted greed that has taken hold over landlords in San Jose. I wish that landlords would sell their properties to people that want to raise families instead of trying to raise their net worth by continuing to take them for everything the’ve got. More sales tax? Hell no, I’ve got to save to pay the rent that just went up.

      • > And please, spare me the comments that keep saying that landlords have a right to make as much money as they want, blah blah blah.

        Landlords have a right to make as much money as they “can” (not “want”).

        A government housing monopoly can make as much money as it “wants”. But an individual housing proivider in a free market can make only as much money as the market allows.

        • Seriously bubble? Did I write anything at all about “a government housing monopoly”? What is your deal? Explain yourself with more than a metaphor please.

          I’m starting to think you must be someone that inherited all your wealth and from the time you were a baby you were told how special you were and that you were in fact better than everyone else because your ancestors worked so hard.

          Something tells me you did not go to a high powered business school, else you might actually be creating jobs somewhere rather than defending a landlords right to make as much money as they want…er CAN (which is a grotesque amount in San Jose).

          • > Seriously bubble? Did I write anything at all about “a government housing monopoly”?

            The power to tax is a monopoly power of the government. Didn’t you realize this?

            When government housing providers put taxes on their private sector competitors, a reasonable person might look at it as a “government housing monopoly”..

            You’re a reasonable person, aren’t you?

      • So, Jill, if landlords are taxed, what do you think their reaction will be? I’ll give you 50 guesses, and I’m not sure that will be enough for you to figure it out.

    • Whether you increase the sales tax or enact a new parcel tax isn’t really the point. The point is that government and non-profits have been flailing away at “homelessness” for decades with no measurable positive results. Much of the money for whatever tax is raised will go to two destinations—(1) the government agencies and their employees who administer/spend the tax money, and (2) the NGO’s with the best grant writers and their employees. Both groups are parasites feeding off a problem they have not and cannot solve. I’d be stunned if even half the tax money raised actually went to the homeless. This homeless “problem” is like Sisyphus. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars are collected from the people, yet there has been no significant decrease in homelessness. In fact, it’s still growing in most places. It’s ironic that the jobless homeless folks support a lot of jobs, but their plight remains essentially unchanged.

  5. Many famous, high powered business schools use what is known as the “case method” to help students see the complexities and nuances of real world situations, discuss issues with their peers, and arrive at practical solutions.

    “Mr. Potter was a resident of a residential area of San Jose. One evening, Mr. Potter opened the back door of his house and observed a cute kitty cat on his doorstep.

    Mr. Potter bonded with the cat and then put out a bowl of milk.

    The next evening, Mr. Potter opened his back door again, and observed three cute kitty cats.

    He put out three bowls of mlk.

    The third evening, at about the same time, Mr. Potter again opened the back door, and observed three smashed bowls, puddles of milk, blood, fur, a dead possum, and two raccoons which seemed to be displaying symptoms of rabies.

    Discuss, analyze, and propose actions.”

  6. Yes, Jill, it is quite apparent that you didn’t attend even a low powered business school.

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