BayRail general meeting
Note from executive director Margaret Okuzumi:
After years of frustration and puzzlement about why the normal public process wasn't working to make any difference at VTA, and why the board was failing to exercise any real oversight, in Jan. 2005 I did a lot of research, and wrote a 37-page white paper analyzing how and why VTA was messed up, and how to fix it.
The March 2007 Hay Group organizational and financial assessment of VTA, the 2004 Grand Jury report, and my own white paper of January 2005, identify structural problems that hamper the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board's ability to govern well. All of these reports express concern that the current rotation of city representation for 2-year terms create a high level of turnover that hampers board members' ability to gain needed expertise and exercise proper oversight. The Hay Group report expresses additional concern that VTA lacks an audit committee (in my white paper, I suggested VTA needed an Office of Inspector General to perform a similar oversight function).
Of all the possible reforms that were suggested in my VTA governance paper, I believe the most important one, is to give all cities (and towns) in the county representation on the Congestion Management Agency (CMA) board, eliminate the rotating 2-year terms, and use a weighted population-based voting system for major votes. This would strengthen representation in a fair and equitable fashion and make VTA more consistent with the systems that the CMAs in San Mateo, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties successfully use.
I describe the specific proposal below. But first, the advantages of this proposal:
WHAT THIS MEANS POLITICALLY
Specifically, the proposal is to constitute the VTA board as follows. Note that this proposal is an amended version of what appears in the white paper, in that it specifies a district method of electing reps for San Jose and fewer reps.
- One representative from each city or town council except San Jose, for a total of 14 members, each serving a term (whether for 1, 2, 3, or however many years, I'm not particular about) that they can be reappointed to;
- Two representatives from the county board of supervisors;
- Three representatives from the city of San Jose, appointed as follows:
a) The city's ten districts shall be divided into a northern group of districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and a southern group of districts 2, 7, 8, 9, 10. Council members within each group vote among themselves to elect which one of them will serve on the VTA board.
District map of San Jose
b) The San Jose appointee from each grouping would be accountable to those groups. The members serve for a 3-year term (or else, a 1-year term), after which they may be re-elected to the seat. The reason for choosing an odd number of years for the term, is that the city's odd-numbered districts have an election that is staggered two years from the even-numbered district elections. Choosing an odd-numbered year for renewal will help alternate which districts have members who have been on the council at least a year, which presumably increases their chances of being voted into a VTA seat.
c) The third rep from the city of San Jose is the mayor, or if he or she chooses, a councilmember appointee of the mayor who is not one of the above two reps. This councilmember serves at the pleasure of the mayor, or else for a specified term of 1, 2, or 4 years (again, I'm not particular about this detail about how long that person's term is) and may be reappointed upon expiration of the term.
- if desired, add a non-voting Ex-Officio seat for an MTC Commissioner who is not already on the board.
Total: 19 or 20 board members. This is just a few more than the current 17-member VTA board, of which just 12 are voting members and the rest are alternates. As a comparison, the CMA for San Mateo County, a county with half the size of Santa Clara County's population, has a 23-member board, of which two are non-voting members.
The VTA Policy Advisory Committee, which is currently comprised of one representative from each of the cities, would no longer exist under this scheme, as all cities would already have a representative on the VTA board.
HOW THE VOTING WORKS
Weighted voting is used for major votes. For purposes of weighting, the vote of each city rep, except for San Jose will be considered to represent the population of the city as determined in the last major census. For San Jose, each of the 3 reps will be considered to represent a third of the city of San Jose's population. For the county reps, each would represent half of the population of the unincorporated areas of the county.
Proposed voting procedure (with thanks to C/CAG (San Mateo County's CMA) as this is exactly their procedure):
"The parties intend to strive for consensus following full discussion, but in the event consensus cannot be reached the following voting procedures shall be utilized.
(a) A quorum shall consist of at least a majority of the voting members and shall be required for all meetings of the board.
(b) All decisions and actions shall be by majority vote of those present unless the decision involves the adoption of a county-wide plan or any one (1) member requests the use of the special voting procedures hereinafter set forth.
(c) The special voting procedures shall be utilized upon the request of (1) member. Addition of Ex-Officio members to the Board, the established Subcommittees, and final adoption of county-wide plans shall require special voting procedures. Special voting procedures shall be as follows: for a motion to be successful it must receive the votes of a majority of the members representing a majority of the population of the County."
Proposal for Restructuring Transportation Governance in Santa Clara County -- The White Paper
BayRail Alliance and VTA Reform in the News
February 24, 2008, San Jose Mercury News -- Internal Affairs column: “No Brown Act violation -- If you're paying attention”
September 4, 2007, Gilroy Dispatch: “Sweeping Changes Arrive at VTA”
July 10, 2007, Gilroy Dispatch: “VTA Seeks Smaller Tax Increases”
FAQ About VTA Reform
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might was well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” – Thomas Jefferson, as engraved on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
VTA was only set up in the mid-1990's and is widely acknowledged to be a failed attempt at reform. It is time to replace the current structure with a more enlightened one, one that is fairer to all and which encourages true regional dialogue in making decisions about transportation.