BY SONYA HERRERA
Daily Post Staff Writer
Carl Guardino, who has been the driving force behind sales tax increases for transportation projects in Santa Clara County, announced yesterday he would be stepping down from his $824,567-a-year job at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
His announcement comes as he is promoting a 1% sales tax for the nine-county Bay Area.
Former Mountain View mayor Lenny Siegel said Guardino’s “Achilles’ heel” was his relentless push to tax poor people.
“He opposed our employer tax, and has consistently tried to raise money by increasing the sales tax,” Siegel said. “If you see our housing and transportation problems as part of a larger picture of wealth and income inequality, then that’s no solution.”
Palo Alto City Councilwoman Lydia Kou said Guardino and the group have “essentially increased the cost of living for many people.”
“He might have started with good intentions,” Kou said. “But we also know sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Guardino’s current campaign — a 1% sales tax dubbed FASTER Bay Area — requires approval from state lawmakers to get on the November ballot. The sales tax would apply in all of the Bay Area’s nine counties and raise about $100 billion, which would be used to fund rail and bus improvements. The exact details of how the money will be used are still being determined.
Guardino, 58, of Monte Sereno, said he hasn’t begun exploring new job options, but that he and his family hope to stay in the Bay Area, and that he promised the leadership group’s board that he would stay “for the next several months.”
Jessy Borges, Guardino’s chief of staff, said the CEO will remain in the organization until they find a successor. Borges and the group’s communications manager Pam Kelly said Guardino could leave the organization as late as October.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian of Palo Alto said Guardino’s organization addressed issues that were beyond what one would consider business issues, such as housing and transportation. But Simitian echoed the concern that the growing number of sales taxes, including those pushed by Guardino, were a burden felt by Bay Area residents.
“There’s no denying that a sales tax is inherently a regressive tax,” Simitian said.
Guardino was paid $824,567 in 2017 for his role at the leadership group, according to the organization’s latest IRS filing, the most recent available.
Guardino said in a statement that he is leaving the group to pursue an “impactful role” in supporting “America’s innovation economy.”
Borges and Kelly said Guardino’s departure was voluntary. Siegel said that sounds about right.
“He’s been doing this a long time, and he wants to move on,” Siegel said. “I don’t know that he’s been subject to attacks or anything like that that would make him feel uncomfortable about what he’s doing… I take him for his word.”
Guardino has led three sales tax increases in Santa Clara County since he began working as CEO of the group in 1997. In 2000, he promoted a 30-year half-cent sales tax to fund the BART extension into Milpitas, as well as Caltrain and VTA’s light rail and bus systems. In 2008, Guardino pushed a 30-year, one-eighth sales tax to fund operational costs of the BART extension. In 2016, Guardino and the group supported Measure B, a 30-year half-cent sales tax to fund the BART extension to downtown San Jose, as well as Caltrain electrification and grade separations.
Criticism of past tax increases
Kou, the Palo Alto councilwoman, said past sales taxes have not solved traffic problems in the Bay Area.
“People need to stop approving sales taxes when we have nothing to show for it,” Kou said.
Simitian said he thinks leaders should expect developers to fully mitigate their projects’ negative impacts on housing and transportation, and that voters should ask whether the costs and benefits of new tax measures are fairly spread out.
Simitian said he did not initially support Measure B for this reason, until Guardino guaranteed that a portion of the measure’s proceeds would go to cities in north Santa Clara County for rail crossing improvements.
The supervisor said he did not see anything significant in the timing of Guardino’s announcement.
“Twenty-three years in one position is a long time for any CEO,” Simitian said. “I take it at face value.”