State budget halts transit projects

BART trains will be more crowded and riders could be forced to shell out more for their commute after the state budget signed Tuesday axed the funding for several local transit agencies.

BART had planned to replace and expand its “aging” fleet of 669 rail cars as a way to mitigate overcrowding during peak commute hours. On Tuesday, however, the agency said it lost $37 million in state funding, which will make improving the rail system increasingly difficult, according to spokesman Linton Johnson.

“With this latest budget, we’ve lost a total of $111 million since 2000,” Johnson said. “If we had $111 million, we could buy the equivalent of 37 new rail cars, [which] could help us carry another 5,500 more riders.”

The loss of funding comes as BART experiences an uptick in ridership, and the funds would have helped alleviate the current pressure. Ridership has grown more than 6 percent during the last year and trains now carry as many as 378,000 passengers per workday.

To decrease crowding, BART is considering alternative solutions, such as raising prices during peak hours, along with working with employers to adjust employee schedules, moving walls to gain more space on platforms and removing some train seats, which would allow for more standing room.

BART is not the only local transit agency facing steep cuts. The already cash-strapped San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will lose $37 million in state funding this year, spokesman Judson True said.

“It’s kind of difficult to expand our system and provide more service [with continued cuts],” the transit agency’s executive director, Nathaniel Ford, told The Examiner.

The roughly 700,000 daily riders will not experience cuts to bus or light-rail service as a result of the shortfall, Ford said. But some capital projects, namely the revamping of Muni’s aging central-control facility, will be delayed.

“The state budget crisis makes it harder for us to replace central control and improve service to our customers,” True said.

Caltrain anticipated receiving $19 million from the state budget to renovate its South San Francisco station, which is part of the agency’s aggressive plans to electrify its rail system. As of Tuesday, that money was wiped away, said spokeswoman Christine Dunn.

“And when one project is delayed, others are postponed as well,” Dunn said.

Caltrain service will not be heavily affected by the state budget fallout, since most operational funding comes from counties and fare revenue and not from the state, Dunn said. The same is true for SamTrans, which is largely funded by a half-cent sales tax, she said.

Housing likely casualty of budget

Cities across the Peninsula may struggle to provide affordable housing because of millions of dollars of cuts in the newly signed state budget.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger inked the budget Tuesday, which slashed $350 million in redevelopment funds from local governments across the state.

The budget takes nearly $6 million from the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which is tasked with providing public infrastructure and affordable housing.

The money grab means the agency may have to slow a number of development projects slated for approval, including several that are under way in Mission Bay, Bayview-Hunters Point and South of Market. The organization is also the main agency redeveloping the Transbay Terminal.

The Redevelopment Agency will look to untapped property-tax revenue in order to fill the gap, said Amy Lee, deputy executive director of finance and administration.

The agency is mostly funded through the sale of bonds. Those bonds are repaid through tax increments, hikes in property taxes related to the rise in property values in redevelopment zones. Some of those funds have not been touched.

“I’m confident that we’ll balance this out with minimal impact,” Lee said.

In San Mateo County, cities lost more than $8 million in redevelopment funds.

Foster City Assistant City Manager Kristi Chappelle said affordable-housing development would likely be first on the list to be delayed. The city was hoping to start construction on its 11-acre Mirabella project, which includes 70 affordable-housing units for seniors plus restaurants, shops and a town square.

“We’re not panicking yet but it’s unfortunate,” Chappelle said.

The budget could have been far worse for local cities, however, especially because proposals involving the state borrowing money from cities’ general budgets were scrapped, said San Mateo Finance Director Hossein Golestan.

“So in just four months we’re going to be back sweating this again,” said Redwood City Finance Director Brian Ponty.

– Brent Begin and Mike Rosenberg

Domino effect

Redevelopment money cities lost in state budget:

City / Amount lost

San Francisco / $5,938,000
South City / $1,763,000
Foster City / $1,166,000
San Mateo / $856,000
Redwood City / $736,000
Menlo Park / $710,000
East Palo Alto / $674,000
Daly City / $503,000
Belmont / $478,000
San Bruno / $412,000
Brisbane / $355,000
San Carlos / $331,000
Millbrae / $249,000
Pacifica / $24,000

Source: California Redevelopment Association

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