Proposition AA - BART General Obligation Bond

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2004 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

Proposition AA is a $980 million general obligation bond to pay for seismic safety improvements including strengthening tunnels, bridges, elevated structures, the Transbay Tube that runs under the San Francisco Bay, and other components of the BART system including the Muni Metro tunnels and stations between Embarcadero and West Portal stations. The measure requires approval by a cumulative two thirds of the voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties. The estimated average property tax increase to the owner of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 would be $21.12 per year.

Why it is on the ballot

BART is responsible for an average of more than 310,000 passenger trips per day, and is a backbone of our regional transportation system.

The BART system was built using state-of-the-art seismic technology and knowledge at the time of its construction. The system functioned well during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, resuming service within hours of the quake and operating 24 hours a day while the Bay Bridge was unusable. However, after the Loma Prieta quake, BART undertook seismic studies to review the structural integrity of the system, particularly its elevated structures and the underwater Transbay Tube. The studies concluded that the system was safe, but could be vulnerable to major service interruptions or even service failure during a larger seismic event.

The 77-mile core system, which this bond measure would address, was completed in 1972. Extensions completed between 1995 and 2003 have increased the mileage of the system by a third, but these extensions were built using more stringent seismic safety standards than the original part of the system, and are not in need of seismic retrofit.

The United States Geological Survey predicts that there is a 62 percent probability that the Bay Area will experience one or more major earthquakes over the next 30 years. In 2000, BART undertook new studies to determine in greater detail the extent of the system's vulnerabilities, and the costs that would be required to strengthen the system to improve its performance during such an event. The study found that the foundations and columns of the system's aerial structures could be damaged by severe ground movement, causing service disruptions. In addition, it found that the gravel surrounding the Transbay Tube is subject to liquefaction--a fact not previously known--which could place great stress on the tube or, in the worst case scenario, cause it to fail entirely. Finally, the study showed that some stations and equipment require additional seismic upgrades. The study panel, along with two peer review groups of prominent engineers and seismic experts, recommended to the BART Board that it secure funding for seismic upgrades and quickly implement the retrofitting program.

In November 2002, voters in the three counties narrowly rejected a slightly larger ($1.05 billion) bond for the same purpose. The current proposal includes a lower total expenditure amount, along with plans to supplement the bond with additional fare receipts and other funding sources.


Those who support Proposition AA state:

  • BART is an important part of San Francisco 's transportation system, accounting for 80 percent of the transit trips into and out of San Francisco . Another 55,000 people use BART within San Francisco . As a transit-dependent city, we cannot get by without BART being in working order after an earthquake.
  • BART represents one of the largest single public investments in the region, valued at over $15 billion. The region has spent billions to retrofit and extend the system in recent years, and spending a fraction of BART's worth to secure it in the likely event of a major quake is a wise investment.
  • BART is a critical component of transportation in the region, and it is made vulnerable by its dependence on bridges and tunnels. The economic and human costs to the region of a major quake will be even greater, and our recovery slower, if BART is not operational for an extended period.
  • San Franciscans would receive the additional benefit of improvements to the pieces of the Muni Metro system that BART owns, as Muni is another core piece of the city's transportation system.


Those who oppose Proposition AA state:

  • The cost of the BART upgrades should be born by the people who ride it or benefit from it not from those property owners who never use it.
  • The entire region benefits from the core of the BART system, not just Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties. San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, which are also part of the larger BART system, should contribute to this program.

SPUR's analysis

This measure would pay for upgrades of system components including the Transbay Tube, aerial structures, stations, maintenance facilities, and administrative buildings to a higher seismic safety standard. In addition, it would include some funding for improvements to Muni Metro stations between Embarcadero and Castro, and the West Portal Station, which BART built and owns.

In addition to the $980 million in general obligation bonds authorized by this measure, the seismic safety program would use $50 million in BART passenger revenue, $134 million in State seismic safety funds, and $143 million in funds generated by the March 2004 Regional Measure 2 bridge toll increase (the Regional Measure 2 money can only be used for the Transbay Tube retrofit). The measure would also provide for an independent oversight committee charged with ensuring the funds are spent responsibly and in accordance with the goals of the bond program.

The costs of the measure would be distributed among property owners in the three counties based on the assessed valuation of the properties. It is estimated that San Francisco would contribute approximately 30 percent of the total bond program revenues, with Alameda and Contra Costa county property owners paying the rest.

The measure requires a two-thirds cumulative vote of all aggregate voters in the three counties, but not necessarily of any one county.

SPUR recommends a "yes" vote on Measure AA. The BART system is central to the economic health of the entire region, and ensuring it performs as well as possible during and after an earthquake should be a top priority. The BART system improves benefits everyone who lives in the region--not just those who ride it--by reducing traffic and air pollution, and therefore a general obligation bond financed by property tax increases is a reasonable approach to the retrofit.

There are arguments on both sides of the question as to whether Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties should be helping to fund the seismic upgrading of the original system. Voters in these counties were not willing to tax themselves to join the BART District , and all of these years they have developed in a more automobile-oriented way because of it. Now that they have decided to connect to BART, they have entered into partnership arrangements with BART, in which the counties pay for BART extensions rather than actually joining the BART District . On the one hand, residents of the original BART counties may benefit by these extensions, which they did not have to pay for. On the other hand, over time, we believe that San Mateo and Santa Clara counties should be fully integrated into the BART District , and future costs for infrastructure should be shared system-wide. Nonetheless, it is critical to our regional transportation system that this seismic improvement program proceed as soon as possible.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Measure AA.