Half a century ago, regional planners foresaw a rapid transit system circling the Bay, reaching from Marin to Santa Clara Counties.
So why is it that an entire generation has gone from diapers to Social Security and BART trains have yet to pull into a South Bay station?
The history is a textbook study in the “tragedy of the commons;” a social phenomenon where people acting in logical self-interest interest, behave in ways that are ultimately destructive to the well-being of the whole community, which includes them.
In 1953, six Bay Area counties formed the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) board. Santa Clara County dropped out first, when the Board of Supervisors, dissatisfied that BART’s first phase would only reach Palo Alto, decided to focus on building expressways, according to a 2005 Mercury News report.
The next to bail was San Mateo County in 1961. The Board of Supervisors feared they would just help residents shop in San Francisco instead of Hillsdale Mall, provide convenience for Santa Clara County residents, compete with the Southern Pacific railroad and hurt planned development along I-280. Supervisor T. Louis Chess, a Southern Pacific employee, and developer David Bohannon both heavily influenced the decision, according to a 2011 story in The Almanac, a newspaper serving the Peninsula.
Subsequently, Marin County dropped out when the Golden Gate Bridge’s board of directors objected carrying trains over the bridge. That left San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Fast forward to the 1990s. If it feels like we’ve been passing taxes to bring BART here for decades, you’re not wrong.
In the 1990s, voters approved taxes to extend BART into Santa Clara County. One was ruled invalid and the second was cancelled. Measure A, the 2000 half-cent BART sales tax, was approved, and forecast to raise $14.3 billion over 35 years. But revenue plummeted with the dot-com bust, and in 2004 the Federal Transit Administration gave the BART extension a “not recommended” rating. In 2005, the VTA stopped a plan for a shorter BART route.
That was followed by the real estate collapse in 2008, cutting revenue forecasts to $6.6 billion. Even with an improving economy, Measure A revenue is still only predicted to raise $7.4 billion. Construction finally commenced on the extension to the Warm Springs Station in Fremont in 2010, and the Milpitas and Berryessa Stations in 2012.