BART Bond Will Be on November Ballot

BART will get a top-to-bottom revamp if the November bond passes. Image: Wikimedia Commons
BART will get a top-to-bottom revamp if the November bond passes. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been one of the most talked about bond measures ever. And now it’s official.

Thursday morning, the BART board voted nine to zero to place the “BART Safety, Reliability, and Traffic Relief Program” bond on the November 8 ballot. Voters will be asked to authorize $3.5 billion in general obligation bonds.

From the BART release:

The bond measure is a key funding component of BART’s plan to rebuild and renew its aging system, which faces increasing problems as various physical parts of the 44-year-old railway reach the end of their useful lives. The plan replaces and repairs 90 miles of deteriorating tracks and other aging infrastructure in order to maintain BART’s excellent safety record and protects our environment by keeping thousands of cars off the road.

“This bond measure is practical; it’s dedicated to fixing what we have,” said Board President Tom Radulovich, in an official statement. “We have a responsibility to keep our system safe and reliable while getting the maximum value out of taxpayers’ investment.”

90 percent of the investment will go to repairing and replacing critical safety infrastructure. 10 percent will go towards relieving crowding, reducing traffic congestion, and expanding access to the stations. A little more on that 10 percent later.

Some of the specific estimated breakdowns are as follows:

  • Renew Track – $625 million
  • Renew Power Infrastructure – $1,225 million
  • Renew Tunnels and Structures – $570 million
  • Replace Train Control and other Infrastructure to Increase Train Capacity – $400 million

A BART statement was stark about what happens if the bond is not presented to the voters and, presumably, what will happen if it fails to clear the two-thirds threshold it needs to pass: “BART will not have sufficient funding in the foreseeable future to undertake renovation of critical infrastructure.”

Or as Nick Josefowitz of the BART Board of Directors has said previously to Streetsblog: “BART stands at the edge of a precipice. BART riders and the Bay Area as a whole cannot afford [to spend] another decade relying on its aging and inefficient systems built in the 1960s. Without meaningful investment now, ever slower and less reliable transportation will hold back the development of our region and the ability for each Bay Resident to thrive. The time has come to rebuild BART from the ground up.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of the transit activist group Transform, told KQED radio that he believes it will increase the system’s reliability. “We all know that when BART stops, the Bay Area stops as well…We’re squished like sardines,” he said to the Bay Area’s NPR-affiliate, “and we’re just about to get to that place that Washington, D.C.’s Metro is, where they’re now having frequent meltdowns.”

He’s referring to breakdowns and persistent electrical issues on BART and on the DC Metro, which is about the same age as BART and recently suffered very serious breakdowns due to deferred maintenance.

If that happened with BART, Josefowitz said in another previous Streetsblog story, it would devastate the Bay Area economy. “We can’t get into that type of situation,” he said.

At the same time, it’s somewhat disappointing that a second Transbay Tube will get studied, but funding is not included to start building it. But with its estimated $13 billion projected price tag, that just wasn’t in the cards: it’s going to take a major political change and a cash infusion from Washington to get it built.

“This conversation has been going on for a very long time; often it’s been in the domain of hobbyists and advocates,” said Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director for SPUR, in a presentation last April about the possibility of a second BART Transbay tube. “Now is the time to move the idea of a second BART tube into the realm of a real project.” And that’s where the aforementioned cash towards “relieving overcrowding and traffic congestion” comes in. At least some of it, if not most, will go towards studies and preparation for that second Transbay tube.

That is, if the bond passes this November.

  • RichLL

    The main difference on pricing is that rent control depresses the provision and availability for rent of existing units. Prop 13 does not.

    The main difference on mobility is that Prop 13 doesn’t encourage a change of use but rent control does. As an example, I have owned 15 rental units in SF. All originally had long-term tenants in them. Now only one does. That’s a net loss of 14 rental homes.

    Whereas with Prop 13, if I ever leave the home that I own, then I am not creating demand for another home. Either way I occupy just one homes.

    Prop 13 not only lowers the cost of housing but lowers rents and encourages the build of new homes, on which a full-value tax will apply.

    I see no downside of Prop 13, which presumably is why it was passed by a massive majority of the voters

  • RichLL

    We can play “my cite is better than your cite” all day long. But you are listing everything that you think is wrong with BART and nothing that is good about it. So in the end we learn more about your personal biases about BART than we do about BART itself.

    As I said at the outset:

    “It fascinates me that so-called transit activists hate on BART so much, and especially given that it is the most efficient and well-used local system of transportation in the Bay Area, apart from the freeway system which was far more expensive.”

    And, as Murph points out, BART is also the most financially self-sustaining of all the local transit systems.

  • Dave Moore

    As you’ve mentioned yourself, Prop 13 applies not only to residential but also commercial property. So it’s not just one home that’s impacted.

    Prop 13 has resulted in the transfer of CA tax revenues from property to income, leading to the highest top marginal rate in the country. Income is also much less stable, leading to extreme budgeting situations where CA builds institutional cost into the budget based on good years and has to make draconian cuts in the bad ones.

    Prior to Prop 13 CA public schools were ranked in the top 5 overall in the country. Now they’re in the bottom 5. Also prior to it our per child spend was in the top 5. Now it’s near the bottom.

    The majority vote for prop 13 is no indication of its value. A bill giving each citizen $1000 would also pass by a massive majority.

  • RichLL

    If, by your own admission, CA has simply replaced the allegedly “lost” revenues by raising other taxes, then there is no net loss of tax revenue to the state, nor any decrease in the total taxes paid by CA taxpayers.

    What has really happened is that the state is less dependent on taxes on assets, which makes perfect sense because the ownership of an asset does not imply that you have the cash to pay a tax bill. A big part of the reason for Prop 13 was to protect low-income home-owning seniors from egregious tax increases.

    Every theory of taxation that I have read talks about taxes on transactions being fairer than taxes on assets or wealth. And also harder to evade or avoid.

    As for the quality of CA schools over that period, you need to factor in CA’s huge immigration relative to other states, and the burden placed on schools teaching students for whom English is not their first language.

    Since CA simply replaced the “lost” revenue, there is no reason why schools have been short-changed as a result, unless the voters preferred to fund other priorities.

    Finally, the voters are smarter than you give them credit for, and would see right through a “free” grand, knowing of course that it would be far from “free”.

  • Prinzrob

    This very thing was piloted at the 19th Street station in Oakland and as far as I can tell is working very well. It is certainly not cheap though, so I assume the bond money would enable BART to take what they’ve learned from this project and apply it on a larger scale.

  • david vartanoff

    As to facts cited by me, I have been riding mass transit systems for 61 yrs so much of what I detail is from personal experience. If you depend on the website you referenced, given the errors I spotted, you need to find better sources.
    “Hate on BART”? Not I. However, having experienced better designed, and better managed (at times) mass transit systems, I believe I have the right/duty as a rider to point out where they could improve. The case of the escalators not being rain protected as originally built is a prime example of ignorant design.

    Good about BART? That it exists. reasonably fast transit when it is running at decent headways (having to wait 20′ to then make a 35′ minute trip is annoying.), relatively clean stations (I have lived in NYC). On Time Performance, very good. Fully ADA compliant.

    About “self sustaining” ? no, Enron accounting. Muni’s net cost per rider carried is lowest. As J. Wieser points out BART often gets outside funding for capital expenditures; which is not booked as a cost of operations.

  • Dave Moore

    It’s interesting that you would use the argument that Prop 13 was done to save seniors from rising tax bills. I believe that is identical to the one constructed to support rent control. For both they took a real problem and used a blunt instrument to attempt to solve it rather than finding a way to do it in a targeted way. I can only assume you support one (Prop 13) because it personally benefits you and not the other (Rent control) because it personally disadvantages you.

    I never said that CA simply replaced the revenues. I said it shifted sources and that changes happened along the way. All indications are that schools took a big hit. The primary beneficiary of income tax is the state while property taxes go to the localities responsible for schools. Prop 13 severely limited their ability to levy taxes even if their residents wanted them.

    “Finally, the voters are smarter than you give them credit for, and would see right through a “free” grand, knowing of course that it would be far from “free””

    I think I just swallowed my gum. You’re either joking or deluded.

  • RichLL

    “I can only assume you support one (Prop 13) because it personally benefits you and not the other (Rent control) because it personally disadvantages you.”

    You know what they say about people who assume. Rent control doesn’t hurt me at this point. I actually thinks it hurts tenants, for the reasnos given, and can help landlords by driving up market rents. Prop 13 benefits everyone, IMO.

    “I never said that CA simply replaced the revenues. I said it shifted sources”

    You claimed that we have high state income and sales taxes because of Prop 13. That implies the state merely took with the one hand what was taken from the other. And that is my view also, and that the “sources” are now more appropriate i.e. based on earnings and ability to spend.

    “The primary beneficiary of income tax is the state while property taxes go to the localities responsible for schools.”

    Another thing that Prop 13 did is centralize educational funding. It’s actually a negative IMO because I’d rather fund my local school than one in Fresno. But I am not aware that we are spending less on education.

    Oh, and did you know that property tax revenues have increased by an average of 7% per annum since Prop 13. Are you suggesting that inadequate?

    “You’re either joking or deluded.”

    Neither. You asked a hypothetical question so there are no correct answers. You think the voters are stupid and I don’t.

  • RichLL

    Well, David, if older = righter than I can’t compete with 61 years. To your last point:

    “Muni’s net cost per rider carried is lowest.”

    Well, of course. Muni rides are the shortest and the quickest. So obviously the cost would be less than, say, a 50 mile trip on BART or CalTrain. The average Muni trip is probably 2-3 miles.

    However the average cost per ride on Muni is a stunning $10 a pop. With a fare of just $2.25, even an old guy like you can presumably see the problem.

    And of course capital is often funded separately from operations. That is the point that Jamison made very eloquently in this thread. And it is as it should be since, without buildout and capital investment, we’d have no transit system.

    Note also that the Warm Springs extension isn’t just to serve that community but rather as a vital link to San Jose. That said, Warm Springs is part of Fremont – now the 4th largest city in the Bay Area. It overtook Hayward a while ago.

  • Dave Moore

    “You claimed that we have high state income and sales taxes because of Prop 13. That implies the state merely took with the one hand what was taken from the other”

    Nonsense. It says nothing about the total amounts. It’s entirely possible that more was lost by reducing property taxes than was made up for by income taxes. it’s math. California used to do a good job teaching it. Perhaps you attended school post Prop 13. Or perhaps you’re just not good at it all on your own.

    “But I am not aware that we are spending less on education.”
    http://ed100.org/support/californiaskimps/
    California was once a top funder of public education, but that was long ago. … In a long, slow slide, California has joined Florida and Texas toward the bottom of the national stack. Funding per student in California, adjusted for inflation, is only slightly above where it stood forty years ago.

    That says that our funding for schools per student is about even to 40 years ago, while the rest of the country has greatly enhanced it. So I guess one could say you were right that we didn’t decrease it but instead failed to increase it as the rest of the states did. In any event we currently rank near the bottom when we used to rank near the top. As do our results.

    “You think the voters are stupid and I don’t.”
    I’m relatively certain one of them is.

  • RichLL

    “It’s entirely possible that more was lost by reducing property taxes than was made up for by income taxes.”

    But I’ve already pointed out that property tax revenues have increased by an average of 7% per annum despite Prop 13. So why do you claim that Prop13 “REDUCED” property taxes?

    As for “funding public education” that sounds to me like it includes things like UC and community colleges, and not just schools. That may mean that students have to pay their own way a little more or take on more debt in order to featherbed their future, but it doesn’t mean the education is any worse.

    I was educated back East.

    I’m curious why you think the voters were “stupid” to understand that municipalities having unlimited powers to increase property taxes regardless of ability to pay was somehow a bad thing.

  • Dave Moore

    Do you have a reference for the 7% number? Is it inflation adjusted? Is it adjusted for the population change? California is up over 70% since prop 13 was passed.

    The numbers for per pupil spending on elementary / secondary schools are deep in this US Census document
    https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/econ/g13-aspef.pdf

    This has nothing to do with UC or community colleges.

    In this one (Table 11) California is not in the bottom 5. We’re 34th. Yay? Most of the states below us also have a lower cost of living though and since the bulk of the costs are salaries it doesn’t speak well for us.

    Closer to home is table 18. That shows per pupil spend for the largest 100 school districts. SFUSD spends $9938 per pupil. NYC is the largest. It spends $20331. Boston is about the same size as SF. It spends $20502. Our results aren’t such that we can claim we’re doing more with less. We are simply doing less with less.

    I never used the word “stupid” to describe the taxpayers who passed prop 13. You assumed that. You know what they say about people who assume.

  • RichLL

    The 7% number is nominal, not inflation-adjusted. Inflation was high in the early years of Prop 13 but has been muted in recent years, as I feel sure you know.

    Can’t recall where I read that number although I’m sure you can Google the topic. But if you think about it, it’s fairly reasonable because:

    1) A 2% baseline increase is allowed each year and, believe me, cities ALWAYS apply it even if inflation is less than 2%

    2) The average home ownership duration is 7 years and, upon a sale, the tax is re-based to market

    3) New homes are an increasingly large percentage of the total inventory, and start out on a market basis

    I’m not going to get bogged down on debates about schools. In the end the voters decide how and how much to fund schools and, if you think schools are more important than safety or transit or public health, then you should take that up with the voters. But I’d support local funding of schools as long as it was revenue-neutral.

    Re “stupid”, I really don’t know why you are ascribing that epihet to any voters. It seems rude and you haven’t proven it applies. Disagreeing with you doesn’t mean someone is stupid, no matter how comforting that thought might be to you.

  • david vartanoff

    I never claimed older is righter(sic). My point was decades of personal experience riding various mass transit systems in the US. which is why I corrected the errors about who did big windows, A/C, ATC, AFC, prohibition of smoking first because I watched these advances happen. If you look at BART ridership stats, the bulk is west of the East Bay Hills/within SF. Ride east from SF on a late evening train of standees leaving Embarcadero, and see it leave Rockridge nearly empty. Yes,as a generality, building transit to underdeveloped areas often encourages densification; unfortunately in BART’s case the Dublin and far end of the Concord line run into SFD subdivision land. Denser housing continues to be built along both the Fremont and Richmond lines.

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  • neroden

    You’re mixing apples and oranges. The Transbay Tube had great ROI, which is propping up BART.

    Most of the BART extensions since the original BART project are giant money sucks — hugely expensive with very few riders. Warm Springs is an example.

  • neroden

    BART had a long list of really stupid design mistakes because of the aircraft engineers who designed it, who were fixated on ignoring all the lessons of 100 years of railroad engineering.

    BART is fixing the worst error — the cylindrical wheels. Switching to normal conical wheels will help a lot.

  • neroden

    You really, really should oppose police and prison bonds. The US imprisons way too many people (more than Stalin’s gulags) and the prisons seem to be essentially used as debtor’s prisons. The police in most of the major California cities seem to have long records of criminal activity and general lawlessness, with Oakland being the extreme example.

  • neroden

    Prop 13 creates a major adversarial relationship between “old” property owners with artificially low property taxes, and new residents who moved into town more recently.

    It is logical for the new residents to harass the old residents and chase them out of town so that the property will change hands and be revalued, and everyone will be paying their fair share of taxes, rather than the burden falling mostly on the new residents. It is a testament to how nice new residents generally are that they have not generally done this.

    Much worse, Prop 13 prevents the legislature from doing its job. The “2/3 provision” is an affront to democracy. The legislature needs to be able to raise taxes with a majority vote in order to *do its job*.

  • neroden

    Prop 13 hurts everyone in California. The real estate provisions are problematic, but the 2/3 provision is the big disaster — it should have been declared an invalid constitutional revision by the CA Supreme Court, but apparently they weren’t awake to notice.

    I’m lucky to live in a state which isn’t messed up like California.

  • neroden

    Local funding of schools was, of course, declared unconstitutional by the CA Supreme Court for very good reasons — it leads to incredibly high levels of discrimination and violates the state constutional guarantee of schooling — back in the 1970s.

    This is actually what led to the political campaign to pass Prop 13. But you didn’t know that because you’re *ignorant*.

  • neroden

    Based on actual evidence, public safety is best preserved by shutting down most of the police departments. Police seem to commit an enormous number of crimes in places like Oakland, LA, SF, etc…

    Obviously it is theoretically possible to have a useful police department, and I’ve seen a number in small towns, but when the vast majority of the people of LA consider the LAPD to be another criminal gang — and the evidence indicates that they have strong reason to believe that — I really wouldn’t vote for a police bond there. Would you?

  • neroden

    The designers of BART were arrogant idiots. It’s well documented that they hired a bunch of aircraft engineers who thought they could do better by ignoring the entire history of railroad engineering…

    Turns out they couldn’t do better. Which should not be a surprise.

    The Transbay Tube was a great idea and is basically the entire reason for BART.

  • City Resident

    BART reached a multi-year labor agreement recently, helping to ensure that strikes should be a non-issue for at least a few years. BART certainly has room for improvement (which agency, company, etc. doesn’t?), but BART service was nearly always fast and reliable over my years of commuting by BART.

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