VTA Reform Back On the Table

Berman_VTA_flyer

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember efforts last year on Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) governance reform via AB 1091?  VTA reform is back in play again in the State Legislature, thanks to California State Assembly Member Marc Berman.

Assembly Member Berman will have a town hall to discuss this new effort at VTA Governance Reform.  That town hall takes place on Wednesday from 6pm-7pm.  Speakers at the Town Hall will include:

  • Current VTA Board Chair and San Jose Vice Mayor Charles “Chappie” Jones
  • Former VTA Board member and current Santa Clara City Council member Teresa O’Neill
  • Amalgamated Transportation Union (ATU) Local 265 President & Business Agent John Courtney

RSVP to make yourself part of that town hall Wednesday evening at 6pm.

Afterward, read more on why we continue to support governance reform at VTA.

Background

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board of Directors sets Santa Clara County’s bus, rail and highway policy. The Board has 12 voting members, six alternate Board members, and one (1) ex-officio member. All Board members are elected officials appointed to serve on the VTA Board by the councils of the cities or towns they represent.

As a resident of Santa Clara County, you cannot run for a seat on the VTA Board of Directors. Worse, you cannot vote for someone to represent you at VTA. You also cannot recall any member of the VTA Board Of Directors.

In 1993, as part of the formation of the VTA we all know and enjoy today, Santa Clara County voters approved a ballot measure merging the County’s Transit District and Traffic Authority into one agency. Read up on that ballot measure below.

1993MeasureB

Why Support Reform At VTA?

Since 2004, three (3) Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Reports strongly recommended a restructuring of the VTA’s Board Of Directors. Recall back in June 2019 on how the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury trashed VTA’s poor governance in their 61-page report.  A story from the Mountain View Voice on the Grand Jury report from July 2019 sums up one key recommendation:

The grand jury report lays much of the responsibility for this dysfunction on the VTA Board of Directors. The 12-member governing board consists entirely of political appointees who must be currently serving as city council members or on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Often, board members face a steep learning curve, and it doesn’t help that they often lack any experience in transportation, finance or management of an agency of this size, the report says.

What results is that VTA board members quickly become overwhelmed with their duties, which include reading through board packets hundreds of pages long. It becomes too difficult to govern the transit agency in addition to the communities they were elected to serve, so VTA board members tend to focus their attention on their own communities instead of VTA. VTA reports generally go unread, and board members tend to make decisions to benefit their own constituents, that are not in the interests of the county as a whole, the report maintains.

One example of this: an action VTA Board member (and Sunnyvale Vice Mayor) Glenn Hendricks did as city council member to help increase traffic around schools:

How does Glenn Hendricks, Sunnyvale Vice Mayor, reconcile with Glenn Hendricks, VTA Board member, about this decision? How can one say they are helping relieve automobile traffic while making decisions that help increase automobile traffic? This is especially daunting as they read about bicyclists getting hit by automobiles such as this collision in 2019 near local schools. The same goes for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who, along with four (4) other San Jose City Council members, also serve on the VTA’s Board Of Directors. As of March 22, there have been 22 traffic fatalities so far on the streets of San Jose.

How can an elected official have the time and energy needed to make decisions for a public transit agency for an entire county? This is when they must already deal with

  • the city budget or county budget they were elected to help manage
  • other city or county issues they were elected to help resolve
  • managing their own family budget and personal issues

Think about it. It’s one of many reasons why governance reform at VTA is needed.

“…But VTA Is Doing Better Now!”

Also…

This last point is negated by the possibility of 694 people at VTA – some of them drivers – on April 29 being let go due to VTA’s employee vaccine mandates. With no known plans on how to replace any drivers not vaccinated being let go after April 29, full, pre-pandemic service restoration may not even occur until early 2023, at the earliest. Even this is contingent on whether or not the new BA.2 omnicron variant of COVID-19 can be quickly contained.

While this is also good to hear from VTA, there is still a need for oversight that mandates governance reform. This is described more in the next section.

Missing: Project Oversight

This San Jose Spotlight op-ed from former VTA Citizens’ Advisory Committee member Robin Roener shows how lack of oversight on how VTA is spending your 2016 Measure B sales tax dollars on highway projects will just increase traffic. Especially in areas like Highways 101, 280, and 880 thru San Jose:

When projects that fail to provide the traffic relief they promise lack oversight, it’s time for reform. One idea for reforming governance at is below.

One Example Of a Governance Proposal

One personal proposal I have is in reducing the number of voting members on the VTA’s Board Of Directors from 12 to 9. Such a Board would include the following as members:

  • Three (3) professional experts in transportation – one specializing in public transportation, one specializing in highways, and one who specializes in public transit and highways. (The public transportation expert must be able to ride VTA buses, light rail, and/or ACCESS paratransit for their mobility.)
  • Three (3) County Supervisors – one representing North County, including unincorporated areas (from District 5); one from San Jose, including areas unincorporated within San Jose’s borders (Districts 1-3); and one from South County (District 4).
  • Three (3) directly-elected members of the public – one from North County (including unincorporated areas); one from San Jose (including unincorporated areas within its borders); and one from South County (including unincorporated areas).

What are your own ideas in reforming how VTA is managed?

Please come to tonight’s Town Hall to express yourself on this issue.

What’s Related To This Story?

What’s Going On?

A Town Hall meeting to discuss proposals on how VTA is managed (governed) is taking place online tonight at 6pm. (We’ll have highlights of that Town Hall as soon as they are available)

Who’s Responsible For This Town Hall?

California State Assembly Member Marc Berman. Phone (916)319-2024.

Conclusion

VTA reform is something our group has been fighting for since 2003. (Back when we were originally known as the Santa Clara VTA Riders Union.) Now is the best time to start the process to make this happen. A time that is long past due. Let’s work together to make this long-overdue reform happen.

Eugene Bradley
Founder & CEO, Silicon Valley Transit Users