Another countywide sales tax eyed

Daily Post Staff Writer

A year after San Mateo County voters approved a half-cent sales tax for low-income housing, emergency services and parks, voters may be asked in November to pass another half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in the county.

This tax will likely hit the ballot in November 2018, a year when other taxes will go to voters. In June, voters in nine-Bay Area counties will decide on a $3 increase in tolls for state-owned bridges, and Caltrain will seek an eighth-of-a-cent sales tax in either June or November.

San Mateo County has, on average, an 8.75% sales tax rate, higher than the average 7.25% tax rate the rest of the state pays. San Mateo’s sales tax is 9% while East Palo Alto, Belmont and South San Francisco have 9.25% sales taxes.
Normally, local governments can collect no more than 2% on every retail sales dollar, and San Mateo County is pushing that limit.

But a bill by state Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, that was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, allows San Mateo County to add the half-cent sales tax and exceed the 2% cap.

Mullin’s bill would allow all types of transportation to receive money from the sales tax. But before it hits the ballot, SamTrans must first put together a plan for spending the $80 million the half-cent would generate annually.

Menlo Park’s wish list

Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday approved its wish list, which includes funding requests for separating train tracks from the road at Ravenswood, Glenwood, Middle, Oak Grove and Encinal Avenues, for reinstating the currently defunct Dumbarton rail bridge and corridor and adding toll lanes to Highway 101.

SamTrans has asked for interested cities to submit projects that need funding to the agency by Dec. 20. It also has a website (, where people can list their transportation priorities. Choices include improving bicycle and pedestrian access, repairing potholes and to improve public transit.

Longer trips because of traffic

Supervisor Warren Slocum said at a Nov. 21 board meeting that it was important to improve transportation in the county, recalling that years ago, if you had to get from the county center in Redwood City to San Mateo, you could leave 20 minutes before your meeting and get there on time. Now, you have to leave 45 minutes to an hour before your meeting and hopefully you’ll be there on time.

San Mateo County already has a half-cent sales tax for transportation, called Measure A. It was originally passed in 1988 and was supposed to sunset 25 years later. But it was renewed early in 2004 and will continue until 2034.

While traffic is bad, former supervisor Tom Huening said he’s not convinced that there is enough support for the tax. The sales tax requires two-thirds, or 67%, approval at the ballot box.

More capacity needed

Huening said the county needs to look at ways to increase capacity for more cars on Highway 101 and expand public transit, including connecting BART from Santa Clara to Millbrae.

“A further extension of BART down the center of the Bayshore (Highway 101) on elevated tracks would really substantially add to capacity,” Huening said. “Most of the jobs that have been added to San Mateo County are east of the Bayshore, and not very accessible to Caltrain. We need both systems.”

On July 11, Burlingame pollster Bryan Godbe told the board of supervisors that among likely voters, the tax has between 63% and 68% support. Godbe told the supervisors that with “extensive outreach,” it’s possible the tax would pass.

Third tax in five years

One of the issues that Godbe said was on voters’ minds is that this would be the third tax in five years to come before voters, and that it would raise the county’s tax rate to be among the highest in the state.

In 2012, county voters approved Measure A, a half-cent sales tax, and they renewed that tax with Measure K last year. Measure K was promoted as a way to fund low-income housing, emergency services and parks.