First of the 2015 Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas series of lectures sponsored by Translink at the SFU downtown City Program. This talk was also live webcast and is available on youtube. I have also created a Storify from the tweets that carried the #movingthefuture hashtag.
Carl Guardino is the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association that represents more than 385 of Silicon Valley’s most respected companies.
He also serves as the chair of the California Transportation Commission, an independent public agency responsible for programming and allocating of funds for the construction of highway, passenger rail and transit improvements throughout California.
The sub headings are his own. He spoke without visual aids.
He opened by talking about how much he loved Canada, having visited Vancouver “five or six times …and it never rained”. He said he was a political scientist (“the only real science”) a “public policy geek” and concerned not just with transportation but placemaking. Transportation is the skeleton on which we build the body of our communities. He was proud the innovative housing trust fund the SVLG had set up using a $20m fund to leverage $200m of investment. They had intended to house 4,800 individuals and families who could not afford housing in Silicon Valley’s expensive real estate market. Since 1999 they have now housed 20,000 families and individuals. He recalled the first city meeting he had to attend where he spoke last after a large number of opponents to the plan. He he was thinking to himself “One man, armed with the truth, is a majority.” He managed to persuade the city to proceed despite the opposition, and when the first project opened, the opponents came up to him at the ceremony and said: if we had known what affordable housing looked like, and what the people who need affordable housing looked like, we would not have opposed the proposal. The trust seeks to house three groups, and divides its tenants into roughly equal thirds: the homeless, those who need affordable housing (i.e. low income) and first time buyers. Out of 250 proposals they have only lost 12.
SVLG was founded by David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) who called together 38 CEOs of companies in the valley many of whom were competitors. He stressed they shared common ground in the well being of their community. They now represent 390 employers with annual revenues of $6 trillion, all concerned with making their region a better place. They have taken part in five transportation funding measures, each of which became a magnet for regional, state and federal funding. “We were the first” – just as the Vancouver region is the first to have a funding ballot for a regional sales tax increase to pay for transportation improvements.
In 1984 the first measure was a ten year, half cent sales tax increase for specified improvements which raised $1.4bn in local funding. Each of the improvements was delivered on time and on budget “except those which were delivered early and under budget…. Promises made, promises kept.”
3 Common Ground
The proposal included annual audits of the funds raised and spent, which were kept segregated from other funds. A watchdog committee was appointed to ensure accountability. The same structure was used for the 1996 campaign which looked a lot like the set of projects in Translink’s plan. There were 19 projects over nine years spread over all transportation modes – roads, transit, cycling and walking.
He has been impressed by the broad base of the coalition he had been speaking to that day. (This was the fourth discussion he had had – each different. And delivered on Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday in the US.) He stressed that opposition is important to a functioning democracy. “I hate taxes. I hate traffic more.” It was important to “wisely invest in the future”. The opposition continues but over time “build that trust, keep your word”. More California counties have followed suit until 80% of the state is covered by these voter supported initiatives accounting for 50c on every dollar invested in California transportation.
“We can sit back and be enraged or stand up and be engaged.” There are now 55 days until the ballot starts and 75 days of voting to speak to the electorate. One million more people are coming here in the next 25 years which means there will another 600,000 additional weekday trips on an already congested system. Business CEOs have to “get into the game and move the ball forward” not just shout encouragement from the sidelines. They need to mount in house information campaigns – not telling people how to vote. It was important that people hear from their peers – students talking to students, for example
In the most recent campaign they had budgeted for a $1.6m fund: campaigns demand “time, treasure and talent”
A campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. You are running an Iron Man. I have immense respect for you: you care enough to work for it or are concerned enough about to want to learn more. We have won nine of ten campaigns. I am always asked what I learned from the loss. I hate losing. We worked as hard on the campaign we lost as those we won. Win this campaign, build a better Vancouver then invite me back. You are building for your future and that takes time. You are in it for the long haul.
Q & A
Q Why doesn’t transit run 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
He politely declined to answer the question as it is outside his knowledge. He did point out that we are similar in size and population to Silicon Valley, but we have a higher percentage of trips on transit/walk/bike – and the climate in California is better.
Q What guarantees are there that the projects will be built? You spoke of a skeleton which suggests that we have to build on what we have. Would courtesy transit be viable?
Silicon Valley is a lot more sprawled than the Metro Vancouver region. We do not provide free transit as the farebox helps pay for the service. Roads are subsidized too. We all benefit from their improvement.
Q about the campaign
Silicon Valley is comparable in size: the campaigns we are talking about did not apply to the whole of California. We chose to take command of our future as the federal and state governments were not getting the job done [applause]
Another Q about this campaign
There was a football game this weekend. I doubt the team coaches exchanged play books before the game started. This meeting is open to all and being webcast so I am not going to share what we discussed at the meetings earlier today. It is essential that everyone be engaged, but we all care about different aspects – cyclists care more about bike routes than buses. Employers are more concerned about how their employees can get to work in reasonable time and cost which plays heavily into employee retention. We must speak to the concerns of the community but I will not address strategy or tactics here. We started much earlier than you did, but we also had to deal with a skeptical media. The annual audits, sticking to the declared schedule and not co-mingling funds brought about a greater degree of trust. Our tax expired when the projects were done and all the commitments were met.
“I have never yet seen a government that everyone thought was great.”
Q We did not make the choice [to have a referendum]. It was forced on us. Is there a term on our sales tax?
See the language on your ballot. We had sunsets but Los Angeles, which faces far bigger problems, had an open ended approach
Q Disputed the statement that there is not enough transit. The questioner used it regularly without issues. He also felt that the No campaign was being under reported
This morning’s Vancouver Sun story was 90% unflattering. The coverage in general seems to be even handed.
Q related to Urban Farming
“You have me stumped”
Q The voice of youth has been under represented. The No campaign speaks for older voters, who are more concerned with no tax increase than better transit service. How do we bring in students into the campaign?
Students do not vote as often as they could. First get them registered to vote, so they get a ballot, then make sure they fill out and post the ballot.
We started two years before the vote – and before the recession hit. Once that happened the question “Can I afford it?” became more important to the voters than “Is it worth it?” We also had to get a 2/3 majority.
Q Issue for small businesses – included a remark that the opening of the Canada Line helped the questioner’s business
Often our approach has to be one of balance. Yes the cost goes up but the benefits are real and measurable. Neither the state nor federal governments were investing in transportation at a time when there was increasing demand and there was a clear cost due to the resulting congestion – and that is a real cost we all pay. We do a lot of polling and we have to be hypersensitive to what people are willing to pay. We found that a small sales tax increase was much more acceptable than larger (but revenue equivalent) increases to gas taxes or tolls.
Q There is no accountability here: the Compass card was cited as an example as well as underperforming bridge tolls
Q About specialised services for People with Disabilities
These were included in all four transit packages
Q Does your state still build roads without ballots?
California is at present adopting a band aid approach. They are not spending enough to meet growth nor local priorities. They are constraining spending to be barely enough to maintain the system.
Q Turnout? What about misinformation from the opposition? We tried to inform students recently “not many stopped at our table”. “We haven’t got enough detail about how the proposals will impact our students.
If they didn’t stop at your table maybe you should make your table more attractive – free chocolates? Or get out from behind the table and go talk to people.
Most of the campaign should be about your message. When someone posts misinformation, set the record straight. But if they are posting to Twitter and only have three followers, it may not be worth getting into an argument.
Q Does your experience with a series of successful ballots mean you are now locked in to doing this forever? Higher levels of government are probably quite content for you to take all the heat and pressure off them.
Washington DC is dysfunctional. Our measures do matter a hoot to them. The dysfunction is widespread and affects most programs not just transportation. We have found that when we had funds in hand and approached them for matching amounts we got a better response than we we simply asked for them to do something for us. We have formed a Self Help Counties Coalition to build on success and the federal government now often builds in a local match requirement in many programs. “Yes, they should do more, but I can’t change their mind on that.”
“What’s in it for me?” is always top of mind
Pavement maintenance and rehabilitation spending now requires that local government maintains its previous levels of spending for the prior three years. This ensures that funds raised by the initiatives do not supplant existing funding but supplement it. The Pavement Condition Index must equal at least 75% to qualify for funds, and cities that are at 90% can use the funds for improvements on other things.
Q A planner asked how the campaign included planning
We bring them to a safe space and get them to talk to us as professionals. They have a huge say in what we do. Their local knowledge is essential to our regional challenge.
Q How do we make the shots they take work for us
“Come let us reason together” is the ideal. Stay factual, provide data and if you don’t know the answer, admit it. I have never yet seen a 100% vote in favour of anything in a true democracy.
I was really impressed by the style and clarity of the presentation, and the politeness with which all questions were dealt with – even when it was quite obvious that the questions were being directed at the wrong person. He was universally polite and good humoured throughout. The people who brought him here on a holiday weekend and exploited him so relentlessly owe him big time.
Despite all the similarities in the situation, BC is not California. That is the place where voter initiatives and “direct democracy” took root – mainly as a taxpayer revolt. This of course is as popular as the Boston Tea Party. Which was not actually so much about taxes as the lack of representation of colonists back in Westminster. But the idea that people hate taxes is a very old one, but not nearly as universal as might be supposed. Peace, order and good government is a collection of desiderata that at least implies a willingness to pay for the support services that provide that. We do not have the same deeply held and misguided faith in the value of personal responsibility as Americans. Remember that the US is the only advanced country on the planet that does not have universal healthcare. Proposition 13 was the start of the tax reduction movement which required a shift away to much lower service standards and a much greater reliance on fees and charges. Right wing governments at both provincial and national levels here seem eager to follow the example, but what was as equally clear after Proposition 13 was the collapse of civil society, the abandonment of many valuable programs and the continuing shift towards ever greater inequality.
Most of the people who spoke against the sales tax increase stressed its regressive impact on the poorest people in our community. The sales tax increase is not the best idea, merely the best of a bunch of poor alternatives. We have to improve our transportation system and the Massey Tunnel replacement is not regionally a high priority. It is obvious that most people here would not vote to increase their taxes to pay for a new bridge – or a new interchange in North Vancouver. We are also not being consulted on our willingness to help pay for transit in Kelowna – or another lake crossing there. People in Greater Vancouver already pay taxes to support transit in every other place in BC that has it, and we cannot understand why there is not reciprocity. The value of Greater Vancouver to the economy of BC is not in any doubt, yet fails to get mentioned whenever essential service improvements are needed here.
The province of BC continually pleads poverty, yet has no problem at all in funding freeway improvements. There is always money for tax reductions for the wealthy and for highly profitable corporations, who appear to be able to dictate terms to the province whenever they want to exploit our raw materials and natural resources, and never take any responsibility for the damage they cause.
The referendum must not be viewed as a popularity poll for Translink or the provincial government. Voting no on principle will hurt all of us. Voting no on the grounds that “Translink cannot be trusted” is simply falling for the three card trick that Jordan Bateman thinks he is so clever at. But he knows that the savings he claims are available are nowhere near enough to meet the necessary expansion. He also knows that “value capture” (building permits and development cost contributions) are already spoken for and the Mayors have made clear that yet another hike in property taxes to pay for transit is not acceptable.
The advice provided by the gentleman from Silicon Valley is critical to win the plebiscite. But we must not let our province become another California, nor our country a pale imitation of the US. We must win this one, then get on with the essential task of removing Stephen Harper and Christy Clark from office.