Santa Rosa City Council skeptical of Faster Bay Area sales tax hike
A push to raise $100 billion in new sales taxes for a massive investment in the Bay Area’s commuting network met with sharp questions from Santa Rosa leaders, who questioned the wisdom of placing a vague measure before local voters who could be casting ballots on a fourth transportation-related proposal in a little over two years.
The so-called Faster Bay Area proposal, commonly called Faster, aims to ease the congestion that cripples Bay Area commutes by luring hundreds of thousands of new riders onto buses, trains and ferries, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by polluting automobiles and shrinking gaps between rides to 15 minutes on many routes to make service more attractive.
Faster, which could come up for a vote in November, would need two-thirds support in the nine-county Bay Area to pass. While it likely has a tough row to hoe to win significant support north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the measure could still pass with heavy support from San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland-area residents.
The hurdles the measure will face to rally local support were evident Tuesday as council members peppered a Faster Bay Area spokeswoman with questions about its impacts, methods and feasibility, many of which went unanswered. One pointed comment came from Mayor Tom Schwedhelm as he peered at a draft map showing a potential nine-county rapid bus network and noted myriad projects in the South Bay, San Francisco and Oakland — but evidently little in store for the North Bay.
“It struck me how complex the system looks, and then Sonoma County looks like stick figures up there,” Schwedhelm said, highlighting a dearth of planned connections.
Faster Bay Area has been in the works since 2017 and is the brainchild of the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group — associates comprising and advocating for large businesses that operate in the area — as well as the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. The measure resembles the 2016 sales tax passed by voters in Los Angeles County to fund $120 billion over 40 years for public transportation.
A spokeswoman for the effort, Kelli Fallon, described it as an effort to compete head-on with the allure of driving to and from work alone. She noted that employers were keen on it in part to attract workers who would otherwise have to brave epic commutes from relatively affordable pockets of California.
“Unfortunately, our public transit has been inadequate in filling that need,” said Fallon, a policy manager for the Bay Area Council. “Fares are prohibitively expensive, the coordination isn’t really seamless for riders ... or it’s just not frequent enough to make it a convenient use for riders.”
The Faster proposal could follow March’s vote on renewing the sales tax funding Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit and a regional transportation measure voters approved in 2018 that’s mired in litigation and passed with a narrow margin of support in Sonoma County. It also may coincide with a renewal of a Sonoma County sales tax for transportation measures in November, and Councilman Chris Rogers urged Faster Bay Area advocates to consider the ramifications of placing their measure on the same ballot.
“I just hope you all understand that whether it passes or not, putting it on the ballot will jeopardize local jurisdictions’ ability to pass their own measures,” Rogers said, noting that the South Bay city of Mountain View had recently come out against Faster.