Assemblymember Berman Announces Coalition of Support for VTA Governance Reform

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO - Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) announced support from a regional coalition of elected leaders and former VTA board members, led by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, for the need to achieve meaningful, structural reform of the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) governing board.

“This diverse group of elected leaders recognize that we can’t keep on defending the status quo, which has proven to be ineffective in meeting the transit needs of VTA riders, VTA staff, and Santa Clara County tax payers,” said Assemblymember Berman. “I am grateful to these current and former elected officials, many of whom are former VTA board members themselves, who are committed to the difficult work of improving the governance structure of VTA. I am proud to join them in rejecting an opaque selection process, high turnover, parochial thinking, and lack of experience on a board which oversees billions of dollars of taxpayer money.”

The signatories are joined in their call for structural reform by three Civil Grand Jury Reports, consultants hired by VTA to evaluate their board structure, and a 2008 state audit. VTA’s own 2021 Board Self-Assessment, which interviewed board members directly, states that “cities or agencies often select a VTA representative based upon that individual’s interest in higher elected office, and not on their interest in and familiarity with transportation.”

According to the 2019 Civil Grand Jury Report, the third in 20 years, VTA’s operating performance has continued to deteriorate over the last 10 years, relative to both its own historical performance and the performance of its peers, across a wide variety of metrics. Yet, in the face of this deterioration, the VTA board has refused to take significant action to reform the governance structure. For example, a state audit in 2008 highlighted one of the key pillars of Assemblymember Berman’s reform effort: lack of stability. The auditor wrote, “to promote stability in its leadership and to bring the tenure of VTA board members in line with comparable transit agencies, VTA should request the Legislature to amend its enabling statutes to allow for a four-year board term.” VTA did not accept the recommendation. Then in 2021, VTA’s own consultant recommended that VTA “increase director terms to four years.” Once again VTA rejected the recommendation. Even as they rejected measures to reduce turnover, VTA’s 2021 Board Self-Assessment reported that “most [board] members caution that VTA presents a steep learning curve for most members, and observe that some elected members never fully understand the complexities of VTA operations.”

 

Coalition Letter:

The Honorable Lena Gonzalez

Senate Transportation Committee

State Capitol, Room 405

Sacramento, CA 95814

 

Re: AB 2181(Berman) – Valley Transportation Authority – SUPPORT in Concept

Dear Chair Gonzalez:

We write to express our support for reforming the governance structure of Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). AB 2181, which seeks to increase transparency, regionalism, stability, and expertise on the board, is a critically important effort that is timelier than ever. While we know that the specifics of the bill are still being worked out with stakeholders, we support the pillars of this effort and are committed to continuing to work with Assemblymember Berman to reach a solution that better serves our county.

VTA has faced declining operating performance and structural financial deficits, which have been investigated by three Civil Grand Juries, a State Audit, and numerous consultants over the last eighteen years. In 2019, the Civil Grand Jury stated that “today, more so than in 2004 or 2009, the VTA Board is in need of structural change to enable it to better protect the interests of the County’s taxpayers and address the many complex challenges presented by emerging trends in transportation, rapidly evolving technology, and the changing needs of Silicon Valley residents.” The Grand Jury, like the State Auditor, recommended that VTA propose legislation to restructure the governing board, which is enshrined in state statute. VTA has still not done that.

Santa Clara County transit riders, residents, and taxpayers deserve a VTA board that has the time and expertise to provide high quality direction and oversight of VTA. They also deserve to know how their VTA representatives are selected. For these reasons and more, we support AB 2181 moving forward so as to continue the reform conversation.  

 

Sincerely,

 

Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County Supervisor

Marie Blankley, Mayor of Gilroy

Paul Resnikoff, Mayor of Campbell 

Lucas Ramirez, Mayor of Mountain View

Pat Showalter, Mountain View City Councilmember

Sally Meadows, Vice Mayor of Los Altos

Zach Hilton, Gilroy City Councilmember

Kavita Tanka, Los Altos Hills City Councilmember

Alison Cormack, Palo Alto City Councilmember

John McAlister, Former Mountain View Mayor and VTA Board Member

Rod Sinks, Former Cupertino Mayor and VTA Board Member

Teresa O’Neil, Former Santa Clara City Councilmember and VTA Board Chair

Adrian Fine, Former Palo Alto Mayor

Jeannie Bruins, Former Los Altos Mayor and VTA Board Member

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Contact: Bermanpress@asm.ca.gov, (916) 319-2024