Walking the line on Measure X in Contra Costa County

Joël Ramos Headshot

Although TransForm spent over a year working on Contra Costa Measure X (a transportation sales tax measure that would raise $2.9 billion over 30 years), we have ultimately decided to stay neutral on the issue, neither supporting nor opposing the measure.

There are plenty of good things in Measure X, including increased funding for transit in Contra Costa County overall, $300 million for new BART cars, significant bicycle and pedestrian funding, some of the best Complete Streets language we have seen in any sales tax measure in the region, and very limited spending towards freeways.

Given that this is a sales tax (which is regressive and therefore hurts people of lower incomes the most), we are disappointed with the amount of funding that would be allocated for local transit in West Contra Costa County, especially the amount that would go towards increasing bus service in Richmond. Richmond has some of the highest concentration of low-income people in Contra Costa County (it has been identified as a “community of concern” by the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission). Those who would pay the highest proportion of their income for this sales tax deserve to see more progressive returns.

While any new funding is welcome in AC Transit’s service area for Richmond, it is unclear how the $111 million (a too-small fraction of the overall $2.9 billion) to be allocated from Measure X to transit in West Contra Costa County would substantially increase the frequency of buses in Richmond. This is the densest area of the county, and slated by the MTC to host the most future growth as a “Priority-Development Area” in the region’s Sustainable Community Strategy, or “Plan Bay Area.”

The 2014 passage of Alameda County’s Measure BB (a similar sales tax measure for better transportation) resulted in significant increases in bus service in Oakland and Berkeley, as it should have. The new funding helped restore precious bus service that was lost during the Great Recession. However, despite Richmond being as dense as Oakland in most areas, the majority of transit lines currently only see 30-minute frequencies, at best. Unlike more suburban parts of Contra Costa County, Richmond has some very dense corridors that merit frequent transit service.

To its credit, Measure X actually calls for increased bus frequencies on busy corridors. But while Measure X would allocate $111 million to West Contra Costa County for “Bus Enhancements,” it is ambiguous as to how that money would be spent and how much (if any) would go to WestCat or AC Transit. The wording of the measure also makes that money available for transit-related capital improvements, further diluting the already insufficient amount available for service improvements.

We raised these concerns from the very beginning of the development of this expenditure plan, right up to the final vote for its adoption by the Contra Costa County Transportation Commission (CCTA).

In summary, the good points of this measure — especially the $300 million in funding for BART cars and the great bicycle and pedestrian programs — keep us from opposing Measure X. But the ambiguity over how a relatively small amount will be spent to improve sorely needed transit service in Richmond and the rest of West Contra Costa County keeps us from supporting this sales tax.

This post is part of our 2016 Election Guide.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.