Only nine of 59 requests for federal earmarks in the 12th Congressional District passed a rigorous public vetting process to earn the support of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.
Speier announced yesterday she will submit just over $12 million in earmark requests on behalf of HIP Housing, Samaritan House, San Francisco State University, the Pacifica School District, the San Mateo Community College District, Caltrain, the San Mateo County Smart Corridors project and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. The largest request, in terms of dollars, is for South Bayfront Levee Improvements in San Mateo that would remove thousands of residents off a federal flood map that requires costly insurance.
The transportation, law enforcement and levee earmarks are being requested in conjunction with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Atherton.
Speier is a longtime opponent of earmarks, but decided to partake in the process if she could develop a public overview process for choosing which requests to support.
"On the face of it, it seemed wrong that an individual officeholder could earmark taxpayer money for a project with little or no public review, transparency or accountability. It amounts to a checking account owned by the taxpayers but the only person who can write a check on the account is a member of Congress," Speier said.
Speier's "concern turned to outrage" when she was elected to office a year ago.
Earlier this year, Speier announced the formation of a citizen's oversight panel to review all earmark proposals and recommend the most worthy requests.
"Not all are worthy. If you don't use some kind of filter to find out what kind of bang you get for your buck than I'm not doing my job," Speier said.
The chair of the panel is Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig. He said the panel decided not to consider requests from private companies, ones that would fund ongoing costs or public entities seeking money for local administrative costs.
"Why should someone in Idaho be paying for new LED lights here," Lessig said.
The panel held three public meetings and ended up ranking 27 of the 59 proposals. The top seven proposals received support from two-thirds of the panel, Lessig said.
Speier supported less ranked requests for the Sheriff's Office, San Mateo County Smart Corridors and the Bayfront levee improvements. She moved the projects higher on the list partly because Eshoo is also recommending them, she said.
The South Bayfront Levee Improvements Project is requesting $6,586,750 to improve protection from tidal flooding. Approximately 3,740 parcels in San Mateo would be removed from the current Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood zone upon completion of this project and flood insurance mandates will no longer be required. In addition, approximately 2,200 parcels in San Mateo as well as 9,064 parcels in Foster City will not be reclassified into a special flood hazard zone, according to Speier's office.
FEMA announced in 2007 it would draft another flood map that will include the rest of San Mateo County, including Foster City and San Mateo residences south of State Route 92.
Homes will remain in the flood zone until cities make costly improvements to its levees.
San Mateo has taken steps to improve its levees in an ongoing struggle to remove the city from the dangers of flooding. It completed construction of the southern levee wall along San Mateo Creek in 2001, completed construction of the Norfolk Bridge over the San Mateo Creek in 2002, completed construction of the northern levee along the creek in 2004 and Caldrons enlarged the box culvert under Highway 101 at Third Avenue in 2004, according to the city.
However, the city still has at least $22 million in upgrades, according to 2008 public meetings.
The most surprising appropriation request announced Tuesday was $311,250 -- half of the $622,500 needed to purchase and equip a full-sized mobile command vehicle with up-to-date technology. The mobile command vehicle will assist local emergency responders and law enforcement to address any variety of acts of terrorism, civil disturbances, major crime scenes, S.W.A.T. operations, multi-alarm fires, wildfires, major transportation accidents and urban search and rescue operations.
"It addresses a gap we have here in the county. It will not only be an asset for our county but also for nearby counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara," said Assistant Sheriff Trish Sanchez.
Various federal appropriations subcommittees will review the requests and not all of them may be approved, Speier said.
Speier said she was happy with her "experiment" and hopes that other congressional districts in the country will follow her example and form similar oversight committees. In the future, Speier said she plans to keep and improve the panel for future appropriations review.
Appropriations requested by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.
o $750,000 for the San Francisco State University Competency Based Education Training Initiative to allow all early care and education students an opportunity to receive their internships at SFSU.
o $2 million for the San Mateo Community College District University Center Consortium, which helps retrain laid-off workers, provides career advancement opportunities for technical workers and improves transfer rates by providing well-articulated programs.
o $207,987 for the Pacifica School District's Coaching for Equity and Excellence. The program supports coaching of teachers to increase student achievement in literacy and mathematics.
o $200,000 for the Samaritan House for the Safe Harbor House, a 90-bed shelter in South San Francisco.
o $120,000 for HIP Housing Home Sharing Program, which screens and matches people looking to rent a room in San Mateo County homes.
o $500,000 for Caltrain Positive Train Control System, an integrated signal and communication system that will improve train performance, reliability and safety while allowing Caltrain to respond to consistent demand for expanded service. This project was jointly recommended with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.
o $1.5 million for the City / County Associations of Governments of San Mateo County Smart Corridors Program. The project will implement inter-jurisdictional traffic management strategies. This project was jointly recommended with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.
o $311,250 for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office emergency command vehicle. The mobile command vehicle will assist local emergency responders addressing acts of terrorism, civil disturbances, major crime scenes, S.W.A.T. operations, multi-alarm fires, major transportation accidents and urban search and rescue operations. This project was jointly recommended with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.
o $6,586,759 for the city of San Mateo's South Bayfront Levee Improvement Project, which will help build protection from tidal flooding. Approximately 3,740 parcels in San Mateo will be removed from current flood upon completion of this project and flood insurance mandates will no longer be required. In addition, approximately 2,200 parcels in San Mateo as well as 9,064 parcels in the City of Foster City will not be reclassified into a special flood hazard zone.
Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.