BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
San Mateo County officials are making it clear that they don’t intend to give San Francisco and Santa Clara County leaders more of a say in running Caltrain without settling an old score.
San Mateo County officials, acting through the SamTrans board, announced yesterday (June 22) that they will try to collect $82 million from the other two counties in debts dating back 30 years when the county governments purchased the right-of-way for the railroad.
San Mateo County has controlled Caltrain since its inception, such as hiring the railroad’s CEO. The other two counties agreed last year to put Measure RR on the ballot to fund Caltrain if San Mateo County would participate in discussions to change Caltrain’s governance structure to give the three counties equal say in running the railroad.
Then on June 2, Caltrain announced that the railroad’s electrification project was $330 million over budget and completion would be delayed two years. This came amid growing calls to merge Caltrain and BART in order to bring more expertise into the management of Caltrain.
At a special meeting yesterday, the SamTrans board voted to approve a resolution that gives Acting CEO Carter Mau the go-ahead to find out from Santa Clara County’s VTA, San Francisco and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission how SamTrans will get its money.
Notice of the special meeting was posted on the SamTrans website at 10 a.m. Monday. Yesterday’s meeting was held at 1 p.m., with most of it occurring behind closed doors on the grounds that the agency could face litigation. San Mateo County Supervisors Carole Groom and Dave Pine were absent from meeting. When the board re-emerged from the closed meeting about an hour later, special counsel James Wagstaffe announced the resolution.
While the resolution says SamTrans has given Mau the green light to seek written responses and information from San Francisco and VTA, a SamTrans press release says the board “authorized Mau to take any actions necessary to implement the reimbursement of funds.”
“San Mateo County has been more than generous and patient with this exploration of how the governance works. We remain open to improvements that will provide material benefit to the riders or improved efficiency to operations of the system,” Belmont Mayor and SamTrans board chairman Charles Stone said in the press release. “That is not what we see unfolding. What we have witnessed so far is two of the three-member agencies seeking to take over control through a new governance structure while leaving large outstanding debts incurred for the current one.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said she was “disappointed” by the SamTrans’ board decision, saying she would have rather heard about it from SamTrans representatives at a meeting, rather than through a press release. Chavez said everyone has agreed that San Mateo County needed to be made whole, and this resolution feels like a “purposeful attempt to derail the public process we are going through” in exploring Caltrain’s governance.
San Francisco Board President Shamann Walton told the Post in an email that he believes San Francisco has always understood there are “outstanding resources owed to SamTrans.”
“What I don’t understand is Charles Stone’s manufactured narrative that San Francisco and Santa Clara County want control of Caltrain. That sounds like an oppressive stance. Equity in decision making does not equal complete control,” Walton said.
The announcement came two days before the Caltrain board was slated to discuss the governance issues, a discussion that was contingent on Santa Clara County and San Francisco’s agreement to put the Measure RR tax on the ballot.
However, both Walton and Chavez said it appears the SamTrans board is insinuating that it has pulled out of the governance talks.
“This is divisive and extremely unproductive,” Walton said via email.