Caltrain locomotives sit in their bays at the Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA board rejects proposed ballot measure to fund Caltrain

Surprising vote leaves already uncertain future of Caltrain in question

The saga over the fate of Caltrain continued Friday with a surprising decision from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

A proposed ballot measure from the Board of Supervisors to create a one-eighth cent sales tax meant to fund the financially struggling agency failed to secure the votes needed to clear the SFMTA board.

The board voted 3-1 in favor of the proposal, but approval required unanimous support.

Without the support of the SFMTA board, the measure cannot appear on the November ballot in San Francisco.

But the initiative required the support of multiple Bay Area counties and their respective transit agencies to fund Caltrain anyway.

And Santa Mateo County officials have repeatedly said they would not support this particular proposal from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The proposal would have limited funding for Caltrain until the counties reached an agreement to restructure the leadership of the agency.

Director Cheryl Brinkman, the sole dissenting vote, said she’d gone back-and-forth on the issue before arriving at her decision.

Brinkman, who served on the Caltrain Joint Powers Board, said she would have supported a version of the proposal that did not include governmence changes.

The decision was a departure from the widely held belief that the board would rubber stamp whatever the Board of Supervisors put forward.

Director Steve Heminger, SFMTA’s appointee to the Joint Powers Board, critiqued the supervisors for “leveraging your neighbors,” but ultimately voted in support of the measure as newly written because of the agency’s role as a “junior partner.”

Caltrain carries roughly 60,000 passengers up and down the Peninsula on an average, pre-pandemic weekday.

It relies on farebox revenue for 70 percent of its funding, with the remainder coming from equal contributions from the three counties it serves: San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

Funding issues have long plagued the rail network. The proposal was the most recent iteration of efforts to provide Caltrain with an estimated $108 million of annual dedicated revenue.

San Mateo County previously proposed and approved a version of the sales tax that did not include governence change.

Supervisors Shamann Walton, Aaron Peskin and Matt Haney have said they support a sales tax, but only contingent upon action to decouple Caltrain from San Mateo County and its transit agency SamTrans.

Samtrans runs the rail’s operations and is seen by some in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties as having outsize influence on the agency.

The three co-sponsored the San Francisco proposal at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Santa Clara County leadership has publicly supported proposal with governent changes, and is expected to take up the issue before Aug. 7.

The SFMTA board said they would hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider any proposal emerging from a compromise between the three counties.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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