Napa County leaders want to move slowly on FASTER, a proposed November 2020, Bay Area ballot measure for a 1-cent sales tax hike to raise billions for mass transit-oriented transportation.
FASTER stands for Freedom Affordability Speed Transparent Equity Reliability Initiative. The Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association are its backers.
Last month, the Napa Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors considered approving a list of local projects that could be funded by a successful ballot measure. Instead, members balked.
“I just think it looks like we endorse this by putting any projects on,” said Yountville Mayor and NVTA Board Member John Dunbar.
He and other members said it is too soon to take a position on the still-developing FASTER measure. Before FASTER can go to voters, the state Legislature must authorize a regional agency such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to place it on the ballot across the nine-county Bay Area.
NVTA staff-recommended local projects for FASTER are train service to Suisun City and the Vallejo ferry, Vallejo ferry operations improvements and improvements along Highway 29 and Highway 37.
Though the NVTA board members didn’t endorse the possible sales tax measure, they listened to the FASTER pitch. Gwen Litvak of the Bay Area Council delivered it.
A one-cent sales tax hike would generate $100 billion over 40 years for the Bay Area, Litvak said. The average Bay Area resident would pay about $160 a year. Money would be spent to create a regional, seamless mass transit network.
Napa City Councilmember and NVTA Board Member Doris Gentry had reservations. The state in 2017 increased gasoline taxes to fix roads, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration wants to use some of the money for trains, she said.
“I think there’s a great deal of discouragement on the part of those of us who pay taxes,” Gentry said.
Litvak said she understands the sentiment because she is a taxpayer. She tried to ease fears that FASTER tax money wouldn’t be used as advertised.
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American City Councilmember and NVTA board member Mark Joseph asked why Highway 37 improvements would be on the NVTA’s proposed transit measure spending list.
“This is a significant tax increase,” Joseph said. “It’s primarily focused on transit. But other projects that kind of relate to traditional capacity-building might be funded?”
Litvak said FASTER is focused on congestion reduction, which means getting people to transit and taking cars off the road and adding car pools for people who are driving. Transit also involves putting buses in express lanes on highways.
A Bay Area-wide, one-cent FASTER sales tax would generate roughly $40 million annually in Napa County, an NVTA report stated. One issue that must be addressed is how much money would come back to the county, it said.
FASTER backers also went before the MTC on Oct. 23. Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza represents the county on the commission.
“I think this is a mega-measure and it has a mega-opportunity with it,” Pedroza said after the presentation.
He is sensitive to over-taxation. But this could also be the chance to do something visionary for transportation, such as was done several decades ago with BART, he said.
“I don’t think we’re there yet, but I am definitely supportive of having the conversation to see how we can get there while we address the concerns,” Pedroza said.
Oakland Mayor and MTC Commissioner Libby Schaaf said that if billions of dollars were available to shorten people’s commutes, the best approach would be building affordable housing near jobs. She noted a Bay Area affordable housing tax ballot measure is also possible.
“I am very concerned and I want to be very clear, that for me, housing comes first,” Schaaf said.
The Napa County sales tax is 7.75 percent, except in St. Helena, where it is 8.25 percent. Napa County voters in March will consider Measure K, which would raise the countywide sales tax by a quarter-cent for open space and parks.