CALTRAIN TAX by Thomas Weissmiller, May 17, 2020

Why would our elected leaders want to burden the people who have been most harmed by theCOVID-19 lockdown and want to put a tax on the November 3, 2020 ballot? Are you familiar with the story about the frog and the scorpion? We, the taxpayers represent the frog. Our elected officials represent the scorpion.

San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara County residents are likely to see a sales tax on the November 3, 2020 ballot. Ridership on CalTrain has dropped 98% since the COVID-19 lockdown. Mass transportation requires mass ridership. Will it come back? A large number of CalTrain users are working from home. If this practice continues – mass ridership may never return.

Ideally the people that benefit from a service should be the payers, but in this case the bill payer are the low income who use CalTrain substantially less. These are the lower income people.

Each of the three county Board of Supervisors and their transit agencies must pass a resolution to put this on the ballot. San Mateo County and the San Mateo Transit Authority already have passed resolutions.

Supervisor Dave Pine apologetically introduced the resolution to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Mar 5, 2020. He explained the convoluted process to allow the CalTrain Board to make the decision to put a tax measure on the ballot. They will make this decision in July. Pine said, “If the Caltrain Board met today, we would vote against doing this. A lot of things would have to change before the CalTrain Board would ever feel comfortable going forward with a sales tax.” After the Board members hummed and hawed, they passed the resolution 5-0.

Hopefully voters when polled will send a message – NO CALTRAIN TAX FOR EMPTY TRAINS.

Below is the link and a table summary of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 5, 2020. It is worth watching. There are a lot of sound bites we can use if they decide to put it on the ballot. a resolution approving the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board’s placement of a three-county measure on the ballot for the November 3, 2020, Presidential Election to impose a one-eighth of one percent (0.125%) retail transactions and use tax for a period of thirty (30) years, throughout San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, and the City and County of San Francisco to be used for operating and capital purposes of the Caltrain Rail Service.

Sponsors: Supervisor Dave Pine

The CalTrain Board will determine in July if it goes on the ballot. Polling will be the key factor. It will be a humdinger push-pull poll. People need to be aware of push-pull polling and make sure polling is not favorable.

Time and Comments

• Supervisor Pine. Explains convoluted process. Six boards must pass resolution (three counties and plus their transportation boards.) CalTrain board may not go through with this tax. They will decide in July.

• County Counsel Beiers replies to Supervisor Pine requests his characterization of the law and process.

• Seamus Murphy, Chief Communications Officer of San Mateo Transit Authority. explains benefits, thanks Supervisor Pine for keeping the door open. Public opinion will determine when time is right. If conditions do not change, they will not go forward with this tax.

• Supervisor Canepa clarifies resolution with County Counsel Beiers. If the Board does not approve today. Beiers responds that the JPW board will not be able to move forward. All six must approve to put it on the ballot.
• Supervisor Canepa asks Seamus Murphy if this is not approved,what will that mean to CalTrain. Murphy responds “serious financial challenges”. They existed before the pandemic. Baseline electrification will not be achieved by 2022. Social distancing needs to be resolved. Sunk costs lost. Need dedicated funding. Supervisor Pine restates that all six agencies must pass resolution. In July polling may not allow us to go forward. Canepa notes that this region cannot live without Caltrain. I am going to support this resolution even though it is not the most ideal time to move forward. We do not know what High Speed Rail will look like.

• Supervisor Horsley is in favor.
• Supervisor Groom is a member of the SamTrans Board and the San Mateo Transit Authority. None of this is enough. Not a big fan of taxes but this is an absolute necessity.

• President Slocum will support. It is regional asset. I trust the peoples vote. Let them make the decision.


• Jason Baker, VP Transportation and Housing for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, supports the resolution.
• Thomas Weissmiller suggested the resolution be continued to a latest possible date.

• Katheryn Jordan urges board to reject resolution. Caltrain already has funding by sales tax and it partners. Santa Clara is already at 9% sales tax. Goals have changed. Declining ridership on mass transit. Telecommuting is increasing.

• Adina Levin sits on the Congestion Management Board and Friends of CalTrain supports this resolution. Decision is to keep option open. Give the voters a choice. TEAM C study for a greater diversity.
• Gladwyn D’Souza suggested providing internet to all to facilitate telecommuting (working at home). Consider charging driving by the mile.

• Larissa Quinada, SAMCEDA, supports resolution.
• Andrew Boone. noted a regressive tax will hurt those in the lower income brackets. Use other funding streams – corporate or parcel tax.

These persons sent in comments.

• Julie Lind, San Mateo Labor Council supports resolution. Thousands of new jobs.
• Diane Daley, referenced TEAM C, supports resolution. Stabilizes funding.
• Amy Buckmaster, President of the RWC Chamber of Commerce supports resolution.

Motion by Supervisor Pine, seconded by Supervisor Canepa. Resolution passed 5-0
Meeting closed