Regional housing agency formed, tax increases eyed

Daily Post Staff Writer

An effort to create a regional government agency to tax residents to build high-density housing took a step forward yesterday (Dec. 19) over the objections of a Los Altos city councilwoman.

ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which doles out state and federal highway and transit funds, are trying to spawn a new agency — the Committee to House the Bay Area, or CASA. CASA would eventually have the authority to put taxes on the ballot to raise money for housing developments.

Yesterday (Dec. 19), the MTC voted 14-3 to approve the CASA “compact” that could start the agency.

Now the proposal will go to ABAG and finally to the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

One of the three MTC members who voted against forming CASA is Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, who represents Santa Clara County cities on the board.

The smaller cities in the county are worried that San Jose will grab the money CASA raises, she said.

And, she said, CASA ballot measures would compete with local ballot measures for votes.

“We need to make sure this does not cannibalize other tax measures as well, what is not here is a framework that helps local elected officials understand the distribution of funds,” Bruins said at the MTC meeting in San Francisco.

In order to accomplish its goals, CASA would need about $1.5 billion a year.

The compact that the commission reviewed yesterday included funding measures such as a one-fourth-cent sales tax, bond measures, new fees for developers and even a tax on homes that are vacant.

Despite Bruins’ issues with the compact, the rest of the MTC commissioners representing the Peninsula — Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum and Redwood City councilwoman Alicia Aguirre — voted for the plan.

Cortese said that the compact could create a form of “revenue displacement” for cities.

He said he would like to see the compact go on as a “living document” that could be modified based on the funding measures preferred by local governments.

Was the public informed?

Aguirre also said she was worried that the compact had not “reached everyone it needed to reach” before yesterday’s vote and criticized the fact that the plan was not well publicized.

But she also said, “I think at the end of the day this is a great program. We are in a housing crisis.”

Cortese and Solano County Supervisor James Spering convinced the MTC to put a number of caveats on the compact that would require adequate input from local cities.

They also said they wanted it known that even though the compact was approved by MTC, it doesn’t mean that MTC has approved any of the proposed tax measures.

Slocum said that given those caveats, he’s confident the plan will “work out.” In addition to taxes, CASA would lobby the Legislature for such things as stronger renter protections and speedier development processes.

While this new agency will go by the name CASA, it is not affiliated with CASA of San Mateo County, a nonprofit that pairs foster children with volunteers who provide support, mentoring and advocacy for children in the courts.