The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Wednesday, June 04, 2003


Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

NOTE: Both measures in Irvine on LRT failed; Measure A that would have affirmed the City's support for an LRT line, and Measure B, put on the ballot by anti-LRT NIMBY activists. Looks like Irvine voters remain to be convinced.

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal is pleased to bring you details of the controversial Centerline project in Orange County, CA -- together with a generous helping of opinionated commentary (which, of course, is why you grok our blog!).

But first, a bit of history . . . ancient history . . ., (well, almost). Many websurfers may be surprised to learn that California began developing significant funding sources for public transit more than 30 years ago. If you live outside of California (or are too young to remember), this is the story that your friendly neighborhood highway lobby would prefer that you DIDN'T read!!

(And we'll bet that Wendell would REALLY prefer that you didn't read the following!!!)

(Hey, was that a winning sales pitch or what???)

California voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1938 establishing the California Highway Trust Fund" in 1938. This was one of the first measures to limit motor fuel tax revenues to road construction and maintenance in the U.S. During the 1950s and 1960s, the state Department of Highways (now the Department of Transportation, "Caltrans") built many miles of freeways. But funds began to run short by the end of the '60s. Governor Ronald Reagan (1967-1974) did not attempt to win support for increased highway funding. His successor was Edmund G. ("Jerry") Brown, Jr. (1975-1982). Brown imposed a moratorium on most highway construction and sought to develop urban transit and intercity rail services -- mostly with available funding. But strong pressure to continue freeway expansion did not go away. The Legislature eventually approved the first gas-tax hike since 1963, but Brown insisted this not take effect until 1983, after he had left office.

The first proposal to amend the state constitution and permit use of gas-tax funds for transit was submitted in 1968. It would have permitted the Legislature to use an unspecified share for pollution control -- and would have permitted local governments, with voter approval, to divert up to 25 percent of "highway trust fund" money collected in that city or county to transit construction. This idea attracted very strong opposition from the traditional "highway lobby" but from the business community in general. Opponents raised nearly $350,000 for their "NO" campaign. -- and 75 percent of this amount was contributed by oil companies. Supporters were caught off guard when the Legislature APPROVED the measure three months before the election. They managed to raise just $16,000. The opposition fielded a last-minute "blitz" suggesting that approval would lead to toll booths on freeways. And so, in November 1968, the measure was rejected by a 54 percent "No" vote. But voters in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties did approve, together with Santa Barbara County. The "yes" vote in San Francisco proper was 65 percent. (San Francisco is organized as a "City and County," the only one in California.)

James R. Mills, President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, pushed a bill through the Legislature in 1971 that provided a dedicated source of state funding for transit operations and construction. This complex measure, in short, cut the state sales tax a bit but extended it to motor fuels, which were previously exempt. Then, in 1973, with the support of the Nixon Administration, the "Federal-Aid Highway Act" opened the first small crack in the federal Highway Trust Fund. California transit supporters were encouraged, and Mills decided to take another swing at the state Highway Trust Fund. His new proposal permitted diversion of up to 25 percent of gas-tax revenues to construction of "exclusive public mass transit guideways." Use for transit operation was prohibited. This time, businesses were in favor, the oil companies stayed neutral (no doubt due to the political repercussions of the 1973-1974 oil embargo) and little organized opposition appeared. Supporters raised more than $200,000. Opponents raised a mere $1,700 -- donated by the Southern California Automobile Association. In June 1974, voters statewide approved with a 60 percent "Yes" vote. Governor Reagan insisted on a second vote in each county before gas tax funds could be diverted (he didn't want to make it TOO easy . . .). But companion measures were eventually approved in the counties which, together, house about 90 percent of the state's population.

"Exclusive public mass transit guideways?" This wasn't defined, but Mills and others made clear that busways and bus facilities need not apply (these could be built with highway funds). Orange County officials attempted to define HOV lanes (aka "transitways," reserved lanes for buses and carpools) as "mass transit guideways." The state Attorney General ruled against this in 1987, and the Legislature rejected a "redefinition" proposal in 1988.

But the Legislature DID approve in 1986 a bill permitting use of gas-tax funds for capital improvements along "intercity passenger rail routes" where Caltrans provides part of the operating funds. A subsequent bill, approved in 1989, approved use of gas-tax funds for capital improvements along ANY "publicly-financed" intercity rail route in the state, AND potential commuter-rail routes, AND routes of a "mixed" character (intercity and commuter).

Did somebody say, "Revolyutsii!"

The BEST part of this "prequel" is yet to come!! More in our next post.

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