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Caltrain sales tax measure gets another shot with ‘clean’ bill

After weeks of heated debate, the ⅛-cent Caltrain sales tax measure has been given a new lifeline.

It appeared last week the measure would not make it to the November ballot after San Francisco officials included revisions to reform Caltrain’s governance structure. But Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez announced Tuesday that the governance reforms will be handled through a separate resolution at the Caltrain Joint Powers Board.

Chavez said the resolution addresses many of the reform issues recently discussed, including establishment of an independent counsel, auditor and timeline for structural reform recommendations.

The resolution obtained by KQED also seeks to limit use of funds generated by the tax until a governance structure is agreed upon by the Caltrain board.

Four members of the Caltrain board have since signed on in support of proposal. Those board members include Chavez; Dave Pine, a San Mateo County supervisor and chair of the Caltrain board; San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton and Steve Heminger, a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors.

Ian Abbott The three-county battle over a sales tax measure proposed for the November 2020 ballot may be simmering down with a clean version of the bill making its way through another round of voting. Caltrain governance reforms, which created a sticking point, will be addressed with a separate resolution.

Santa Clara County supervisors approved the “clean” version in a 5-0 vote Tuesday morning, which now heads back to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to be voted on.

County officials have gone back-and-forth over the measure as San Francisco supervisors Walton and Aaron Peskin last month amended the legislation to include the governance reforms.

Those amendments required that revenue generated from the tax measure be put into a special escrow until the Caltrain board identified a viable governance solution. Caltrain would still have received some funding, including $40 million for operating costs.

County officials from San Mateo County and advocates said the revisions violated a 2017 state law, Senate Bill 797 introduced by state Sen. Jerry Hill, which paved the way for counties to place the sales tax measure on a ballot. The bill says all revenue from such a tax measure should go to Caltrain operations.

Officials are now in a frantic and final dash to secure full approval for the clean bill. Friday is the deadline to submit the measure for inclusion on the November ballot.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will hold a special meeting Wednesday and San Francisco supervisors plan to do the same Friday, breaking up the board’s summer recess.

The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority board will meet Thursday. San Mateo County supervisors and SamTrans board already voted on the measure back in July.

The Caltrain board, made up of representatives from San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, will vote to finalize the measure at its Thursday meeting.

Supervisors and transit agency boards from all three counties must  approve the same measure before it appears on the ballot for voter consideration in the upcoming election. 

If passed by voters, the proposed sales tax would generate approximately $106 million to fund Caltrain and provide the railroad network a dedicated funding source.

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