Transportation: Agency May Not Alter Voter-Approved Route
Alameda County transportation officials cannot change the route of a new highway to be funded by a county sales tax without returning to the county's voters for approval, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled. The ruling overturned a decision by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry E. Needham Jr. which granted summary judgment to the Alameda County Transportation Authority in the case. The First District remanded the case to Superior Court for a new decision on a citizen group's request for an injunction against the Transportation Authority.
The Transportation Authority had sought to use county "Measure B" funds for the Hayward Bypass even after moving the proposed route from Foothill and Mission Boulevard to the hillsides above the city. But the First District found this action to be a violation of Bay Area County Traffic and Transportation Funding Act, the 1986 law that authorized Bay Area counties to place sales-tax increases on the ballot for transportation purposes.
"If the tax revenues generated by Measure B are now taken and applied to an entirely new highway alignment for which no tax was authorized, the many protections the Act provides — full disclosure of the expenditure plan, strict limitations on the use of voter-generated tax revenues, and voter involvement in the expenditure plan amendments — are thus amended, affording no protection whatsoever to taxpayers," Justice Ignazio Ruvolo wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel of Division Two of the First District.
Indeed, in his ruling, Justice Ruvolo hinted that the Transportation Agency had deliberately placed the expressway option in front of the voters because officials were fearful that the foothill route would engender opposition.
Alameda County voters approved Measure B in November of 1986, shortly after the enabling legislation was passed. The measure increased county sales taxes by a half-cent for 15 years and gave the resulting revenue to the Transportation Authority to fund 11 transportation projects laid out in an expenditure plan listed as part of Measure B. One of the proposed expenditures was a series of projects collectively known as "Route 238 and Route 84," which was expected to cost $134 million.
One piece of the Route 238/Route 84 project was a six-lane freeway or expressway that would connect the interchange of State Route 238 and Interstate 580 with Industrial Boulevard in Hayward, a distance of approximately 5.4 miles.
In 1997, the Hayward Area Planning Association, a citizen group, sued the Transportation Authority. The citizen group claimed that the agency had abandoned plans for the Foothill/Mission expressway and planned instead to build the Hayward Bypass through the Hayward foothills, a half-mile away from the previously selected corridor. The citizen group asked Judge Needham for an injunction blocking the transportation agency from spending Measure B funds on the Hayward Bypass. Needham granted summary judgment in favor of the transportation agency and the citizen group appealed.
On appeal, the Transportation Authority argued that the suit was not ripe for legal challenge because no final decision regarding the alignment of the Route 238 corridor can be made until environmental review and planning documents are approved. The First District rejected this argument, concluding that the central question of whether the original route must be followed "is a purely legal question."
Moving on to the merits of the case, the First District concluded that the basic question was whether voter approval of Measure B meant that the Transportation Authority had to build specific route alignments, or, rather, that the agency had discretion to build transportation projects along any alignment so long as the origin and destination described in Measure B (in this case, the freeway interchange and Industrial Boulevard) were connected.
In arguing for their ability to change the route alignment, the Transportation Authority and Caltrans, which was a co-defendant in the case, claimed that the state Streets and Highways Code grants final authority over route alignments to Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission.
The appellate court did not agree. Route alignments may require Caltrans or California Transportation Commission approval, but if routes are funded by Measure B, only the voters may alter them.
"The proposal submitted to the voters of Alameda County was, by its very terms, limited to funding certain specific projects described in the Expenditure Plan," Justice Ruvolo wrote. "The voters did not authorize expenditure of the sales and use tax money to be used in a manner vested to the unbridled discretion of Caltrans. This is contrary to the express terms of the ballot information submitted to the voters and the express terms of the Act."
The First District noted especially that "had only the termini been designated, or the now-preferred Hayward Bypass alignment been specified, the result of the election might have been entirely different," Indeed, in a footnote, the court pointed out that the citizen group had presented a declaration from a former county supervisor indicating that the expressway route was selected precisely because of potential opposition to the foothill route.
Hayward Area Planning Association v. Alameda County Transportation Authority, 1999 Daily Journal D.A.R. 4597, 99 C.D.O.S. 3624 (filed May 17, 1999).
For Hayward Area Planning Association: Stuart Flashman, (510) 652-7353.
For Alameda County Transportation Authority and other transportation agency defendants: Susan Dovi, Caltrans, (415) 982-3130.