By the Daily Post staff
VTA today (Oct. 18) has won a lawsuit that had stopped the agency from spending money from the $6.3 billion Measure B sales tax increase that voters approved in November 2016.
In a ruling this morning, the state 6th District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision that threw out most of Cheriel Jensen’s lawsuit challenging the validity of the measure.
“We find her arguments pertaining to the validity of Measure B are meritless,” the appeals court said.
But Jensen had one small victory. The appeals court found that VTA didn’t follow the state open records act when responding to an information request from her. However, the open records issue won’t stop VTA from collecting money from the sales tax increase.
Jensen, a retired architect and former county planner who lives in Saratoga, filed the suit last year alleging that the $6.3 billion tax was illegal because VTA didn’t specify the transportation projects that it would fund and that the measure failed to contain a requirement that the tax proceeds could only be used for those purposes.
Proceeds from the half-cent sales tax had been in limbo pending the outcome of Jensen’s appeal. Collection of the tax began in April 2017, but the money has been impounded until the appeal was resolved. Holly Perez, a spokeswoman for VTA, said today that the escrow balance is $274 million.
Officials in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale are counting on some of the money to build bridges, or grade separations, at Caltrain crossings. San Jose officials intend to use a larger share of the measure to dig a tunnel for BART.
The $274 million isn’t quite freed up, however. “This milestone gets us closer to accessing the money collected under Measure B and delivering on the promises to voters. Even if Ms. Jensen does not appeal, there are still some procedural steps that will need to be taken before we can access the escrow funds,” Perez told the Post.
Gary Wesley, the attorney representing Jensen, said the ruling fails to address his concern that the VTA board could, with a supermajority vote, change the spending plan to something different than what was promised to voters.
“The matter was discussed at length at oral argument on Oct. 9,” Wesley said in an email today. “However, it well appears that the Court of Appeal already had a draft decision-opinion that would not be changed.”
Wesley said he intends to ask the appeals court to re-hear the case, and if that request is denied, he said he intends to seek review by the California Supreme Court.