Santa Clara Supervisors broker deal on Caltrain

With the potential future of Caltrain in its hands, Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors seems to have found compromise.

A week after San Francisco’s Supervisors passed a plan, which that city’s transportation board then defeated, Santa Clara’s Supervisors unanimously passed a new measure, with likely support from the other boards and elected officials needed to pass the measure.

The approach would put a 1/8-cent sales tax on the ballot in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo Counties. It requires 2/3 support in November and would provide millions of dollars per year in direct funding to Caltrain.

Supervisors Dave Pine from San Mateo and Shamann Walton San Francisco Counties, who had been at odds support the plan. Steve Heminger, representing SF Muni, also supports the new approach.

Under the deal, Caltrain would receive funds from the sales tax revenue through a serious of accountability steps. The system’s Joint Powers Board would have different voting thresholds for disbursing the funds.

It also commits Caltrain’s board to reviewing the governance systems currently in place, a key sticking point in recent negotiations. San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties have pushed for reform as SamTrans, San Mateo’s transportation agency also serves as the operating body for Caltrain.

The new plan would also bring on an independent counsel and auditor, separate from SamTrans, for Caltrain.

In recent weeks, local leaders said Caltrain could see little or no service unless new revenue sources were identified. The popular commuter rail line has seen devastating losses due to COVID-19. Unlike most other transit systems, Caltrain’s only dedicated revenue stream is from ridership.