East County residents are the most wary in the county of the fee hike, according to a poll conducted in April for the Contra Costa Transportation Association (CCTA). Only 46 percent of East County residents support it, while 51 are percent opposed – despite East County residents expressing the greatest need in the county for road improvements. Support countywide for the fee increase is 54 percent.
At last month’s Transplan meeting, Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, who is also the CCTA chairman, said East County’s skepticism of a fee hike is understandable. “What we were really discovering here is East County has probably suffered with their housing going down,” he said. “Also the people out here are probably a little agitated, paying for BART for many years and still don’t have it. So when you ask them to support a vehicle fee (increase), I can understand they probably are a little bit like a beehive.”
Taylor and another Transplan member, Antioch City Councilman Brian Kalinowski, got stung by those bees on June 8. Measure F, the Brentwood land change measure supported by Taylor, lost by a percentage of 43-57. And Kalinowski lost the sheriff’s race to Bob Livingstone by the same margin. Two days later at the Transplan meeting, they were not sounding confident about the car fee hike’s chances as they discussed, and joked a bit, about lessons from the election.
Kalinowski, who had not attended the previous Transplan meeting, was initially unclear about whether the fee hike was on the agenda for a vote or discussion. After finding out it was just for an update, he joked, “It’s been a long week, for some reason.” Then he began a bit of second-guessing about asking taxpayers for more money. “My only concern about this is that what I hear from folks about fee increases or taxes, or whatever term we use, is that when they are enacted, they never end. And this is an example of that argument that we get push-back on.
“And furthermore, it’s ten dollars now, but ten dollars 45 years from now is going to be a ridiculous funding stream that’s going to be a nuisance to maintain. It just doesn’t seem, from my perspective, responsible to go that route during a recession. If you said, ‘Over the next 25 years here’s $500 million’ and you can quantify a time line and estimated construction or improvement costs, then that’s reasonable to me or the voter. But the unknown quantity and sort of infinite time line is, I think, where we end up with problems.
“Because we don’t know what the costs will be. We are just going to assume that they are there. If we ran it concurrent with Measure J (the 25-year half-cent sales tax for road projects), then it would make sense to people. And then when they revisit this issue they can say, ‘Do we want to increase that amount, because 10 is now 20? We can make that adjustment.’ I think there needs to be some sunset, even if it’s a long way down the road.”
An election-chastened Taylor urged a united campaign for marketing the fee hike. “It’s been quite a week,” he said. “I guess what we have to be real careful of, and I will approach that with CCTA, is that the public right now is very concerned about many, many items and things. For us to sell this we have to have that this is a good thing because it is gonna come back to source (the cities). This is all for the good and well for all 19 cities (in the county). Basically, they will do within their city what is good for the city. I really feel that we all are going to have to sell the same tune.”
Taylor is concerned about the lukewarm support for the fee hike in the county and even less support in East County. “We were the lowest of the entire region,” he noted. “So, you know, for me to stand out in Brentwood and stand on the highest hill and –”
“That’s not in Brentwood, sorry,” interrupted Kalinowski in a joking reference to the hilly Measure F area. As many started to laugh, he added, “Bad joke.”
“Bad joke,” echoed Taylor with a chuckle and then got serious about the fee hike’s chances. “I don’t mind telling you, I’m a little leery. Because 54 percent, as we just found out, is not a big margin. And on top of that I think the park district has (an) $18 (fee hike) that they are coming out with. If they get $18, we nab $10, that’s $28 all coming from the same pockets. Obviously, our constituents out here didn’t seem to like just the $10.”
Kalinowski pointed out that in Antioch, the school district and the city government might also put tax hike measures on the November ballot to help deal with budget shortfalls, adding, “That further complicates that tax or fee thing.”
Taylor ended the discussion by re-emphasizing the need to use the right message in selling the fee hike. “How it’s on the ballot is gonna really decide how the people are gonna vote,” he said. “And you better have ‘return to source.’ I wanted it on the statement that the state cannot take the money. This wording is the key element.”
CCTA was scheduled to vote Wednesday on placing the fee hike measure on the November ballot. If the measure receives majority support, East County would receive nearly $2 million annually, 80 percent of which would go to local road repairs, 15 percent to mass transit and 5 percent to bicycle and pedestrian projects.