Bruins out, McAlister in as North County’s VTA rep

Daily Post Staff Writer

Mountain View Councilman John McAlister yesterday (Nov. 9) defeated Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins for a seat on the VTA board, a critical position for securing county funds for Caltrain crossings.

The Valley Transportation Authority is overseen by a board of 12 voting members, but the North County (Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Palo Alto) only gets one seat. The board is dominated by San Jose representatives.

Every two years, the four North County cities decide among themselves who will represent them on the VTA board.

The meeting to select the North County’s delegate took place yesterday (Nov. 9) at VTA’s offices in San Jose. Bruins asked for the meeting to be held in closed session, said Palo Alto Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who is among the officials on the VTA Policy Advisory Committee for the North County which picks the North County’s VTA rep.

Bruins has been the North County’s rep on the VTA board for the past two years and during that time she became the VTA chair. She made headlines earlier this year for her trips to Barcelona and Amsterdam to study transit systems. One trip was funded by VTA while the other was bankrolled by a political advocacy group. Bruins’ defeat yesterday means VTA will need a new chair. She will remain on the Los Altos City Council.

“John wanted the opportunity to serve. He’s never been on VTA,” said Kniss. “He has said he would be watching out for Palo Alto as well as Mountain View and Sunnyvale as far as the grade separation money goes.”

The vote

Los Altos City Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng, who had made her own bid for the VTA board, cast the only vote for Bruins, Kniss said. Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commissioner Anita Enander told the Post that Eng had been pressured to vote for Bruins.

The committee, including Eng, then voted unanimously for McAlister.

McAlister didn’t return multiple requests for comment.

McAlister, who owns the Baskin Robbins at Shoreline Boulevard and El Camino Real, was unable to participate in the Mountain View City Council deliberations on VTA’s proposal for bus-only lanes on El Camino due to the proximity of his business to that project. It wasn’t known yesterday whether McAlister will be able to discuss that project on the VTA board.

A rotation among North County cities

Kniss said that she wanted to see the VTA board position rotating every two years among North County cities for the sake of fairness.

If Bruins had been re-elected yesterday, she would have held the board seat for four years.

McAlister is one of the four members on the North County cities’ working group of the VTA Policy Advisory Committee, which picks the VTA board member. He will have to give up the position to another Mountain View City Council member when he begins his term on VTA board.

The fourth member of the North County committee is Los Altos Hills City Councilwoman Michelle Wu.

The VTA board is comprised of 12 voting members, including 10 City Council members and two Santa Clara County supervisors. Half of the council members are from San Jose.

Financial implications

Which city is represented from the North County can have big financial implications, Kniss said.

The 2016 Measure B, the 30-year, half-cent countywide sales tax passed by 72% of voters, is expected to generate between $6 billion and $6.5 billion in 2017 dollars, according to VTA, $700 million of which will be doled out for Caltrain grade separations, that is, bridges over or under train tracks.

Palo Alto is leaps and bounds behind Mountain View and Sunnyvale in planning for Caltrain crossings, which could have implications for how much of the Measure B funds it gets.

“Without question, Mountain View is further along in their plans for grade separation, so they may get some of the money first,” Kniss said. “I’d have a hard time faulting Mountain View for making some headway.”