VTA tax survives court challenge; state supreme court won’t hear appeal

By the Daily Post staff

The California Supreme Court today (Jan. 23) refused to hear an appeal of a case challenging VTA’s Measure B from 2016, which means the transit agency is one step closer to getting its hands on the money accumulating from the half-cent sales tax voters approved.

Measure B won with 72% of the vote in November 2016. Collection of the tax began in April 2017. But the money — about $340 million at this point — has been piling up in the bank, and VTA hasn’t been able to use it, because of a lawsuit filed by Saratoga resident Cheriel Jensen, a retired architect and former county planner who previously sued the county over mosquito fogging.

Jensen claimed that the tax, which would yield $6.3 billion over 30 years, 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.

Last October, the state appeals court upheld a Santa Clara County Superior Court decision that threw out most of her lawsuit. The one victory Jensen had was over her claim that the VTA board didn’t obey the Brown Act, which regulates government meetings, but that issue won’t imperil the sales tax.

Today, the state Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the case, which means the lower court’s decision to toss the majority of the case stands.

VTA said in a statement today that it will now as the Superior Court for a order saying the impounded funds can be released. The agency estimated that would take about a month.

The biggest share of the tax — $1.5 billion — would go to fund the BART-to-San Jose-and-Santa Clara project, which includes a tunnel.

The North County will get a far smaller slice of the pie — $700 million — for bridges over or under the Caltrain tracks, called grade separations. The $700 will be divvied up amongst Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

VTA plans to spend the $6.3 billion on the following things:
• BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, $1.5 billion
• Local street and roads, $1.2 billion
• County Expressways,  $750 million
• Highway interchanges,  $750 million
• Caltrain grade separations in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, $700 million
• Bicycle/pedestrian improvements, $250 million
• Caltrain capacity improvements, $314 million
• Highway 85 Corridor, $350 million
• Transit Operations, $500 million


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