BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today (July 28) agreed to put an eighth-of- a-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot, but the measure’s language is strongly opposed by San Mateo County officials who call it a “poison pill.”
Officials in the three counties that Caltrain serves have to agree to put the measure on the ballot by Aug. 7.
San Francisco’s version of the measure says that of the $100 million the tax is expected to generate in the first year, $60 million would be held in escrow until the counties agree on who controls Caltrain. Right now, San Mateo County runs Caltrain, which has long irritated its partners to the north and south.
San Mateo County officials say the version of the measure requiring the escrow and change in control of Caltrain is not permitted under the law the Legislature passed that allows for the three counties to get together to have an election over a Caltrain sales tax.
“San Francisco’s adoption of the alternative measure killed any prospect for a sales tax this November,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine.
Even if the tax passed, and Caltrain got the $40 million of the $100 million the measure would bring in, it wouldn’t be enough to allow the commuter railroad to run “effectively,” Pine said.
San Mateo County officials have repeatedly threatened to shut down Caltrain if they didn’t get the sales tax approved.
Still, the San Francisco board voted unanimously to approve the alternative measure, proposed by supervisors Shamann Walton, Aaron Peskin and Matt Haney.
“Today, the SF Board of Supervisors approved an alternative sales tax measure that is illegal, unwinnable at the polls, and unworkable for @Caltrain,” Pine said on Twitter. “Unless amended, this poison pill means the Caltrain sales tax is now dead, which puts the railroad in great peril.”
Before today’s meeting, several officials from San Mateo County sent letters to San Francisco supervisors urging them to pass a “clean resolution” without the escrow or governance clauses.
“Their notion of clean is my dirty,” Supervisor Peskin said during the meeting, saying that the original measure would not hold San Mateo County’s feet to the fire in regards to changing Caltrain’s governance, something Peskin says has been a problem for “decades.”
San Mateo County riled its partners in San Francisco and San Jose in 2015 when it selected former Redwood City mayor Jim Hartnett to run Caltrain, even though he lacked the qualifications listed in an advertisement for the job.
Of the 20 or so speakers who called in to speak during today’s virtual meeting, most said they are worried the tax will not pass and will be subject to a lawsuit.
No supervisor at today’s board meeting asked to publicly clarify whether the tax is legal or not.
SamTrans’ special counsel on the tax, James Wagstaffe, wrote a letter urging the board to pass the “clean” measure.
“Simply put, the law (the Legislature passed to enable the sales tax measure to be considered) means the political bodies needing to approve the ballot measure must not impose collateral or delaying conditions on use of the funds,” Wagstaffe wrote.
The tax was originally thought to be dead on July 14, after Peskin and Walton declined to have their board vote on San Mateo County’s version of the measure. Since then, Peskin, Walton and Haney have joined up with Santa Clara County officials, namely Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, to craft the measure which was approved by San Francisco’s board today.
Santa Clara County officials have not voted on placing the issue on the ballot, that board is set to meet on Aug. 4. VTA will be voting on the measure on Aug. 6.
At its July 21 meeting, Supervisor Joe Simitian said he wanted to make sure this new ballot measure is legal before voting on it. Simitian also said he is inclined to vote for the tax measure, which if approved by 66.7% of voters would give Caltrain $100 million annually.