SFMTA board latest to approve Caltrain ballot measure before Friday deadline

File Photo. Caltrain Locomotive 918 heads south in San Mateo County. Photo Copyright: Duncan Sinfield/KTVU.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Board of Directors unanimously approved putting an eighth-cent sales tax on the November ballot to fund Caltrain during a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The tax would generate an estimated $108 million annually for the agency, which desperately needs the funding to operate the system as ridership has plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tax, however, needs to be approved by county supervisors and transportation boards across San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties by Friday -- the deadline for the measure to make it to the November ballot.

Last week, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a resolution authored by Supervisor Shamann Walton to support the sales tax measure but with conditions calling for the San Mateo County Transportation District to separate itself from Caltrain's governance structure, a move initially criticized by San Mateo County officials.

Since then, however, officials from all three counties have agreed to remove the governance issues from the measure in order to get it approved by Friday, according to SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin.

"Since last week, all three counties have been working together very closely in order to make sure we can get the measure on the ballot with the affirmative vote with all the seven entities that need to approve it. And at the same time to address governance issues that have been a long-standing concern for all three counties," Tumlin said.

The governance issues instead will be handled via a series of recommendations going in front of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board for adoption on Thursday. The JPB, which oversees Caltrain, is made up of representatives from each of the three counties. 

The recommendations include, among others, allowing the JPB to appoint its own executive director, special counsel and auditor, separate from SamTrans. In addition to the changes to Caltrain's governance structure, the JPB will also vote on the tax measure on Thursday.

The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority board will also vote on the tax measure Thursday. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are set to vote Friday on the measure, amended since they last voted on it.

So far, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, and the SamTrans Board of Directors have approved the measure.

If it is placed on the ballot and then passed by two-thirds of voters in November, Caltrain would start seeing the funds as early as April 2021.