Sacramento’s Housing Juggernaut

Livable California is a Statewide group that has sprung up to counter a State Senate juggernaut intent upon jamming in high density housing virtually everywhere in total disregard of what neighborhoods want, affected towns and cities want and affected counties want. Thanks to a significant degree on the hard work and organizing of Livable California, last year’s SB50 went down to a well deserved defeat, in large part because of the State’s one-size-fits-all, meat ax approach to a problem that should be addressed with discretion and flexibility, taking varying locations, densities and neighborhood conditions into account.

The ever-active State Senator Scott Wiener has now, Phoenix-like, re-assembled the tenants of his defeated bill, as embodied in at least nine separate replacement measures, each taking its own bite of the apple. These replacements are not well coordinated. They feature overlapping and sometimes contradictory standards and varying ways of handling such critically important terms as “CEQA Exempt,” “transit-oriented,” “percent affordable housing,” “density bonuses,” and “Opportunity Area.”

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Muni’s Continuing Downward Spiral

Bus Changes:  Unlike the transit systems of many American cities that barely survive (AC Transit for instance), Muni has always been popular and successful. In the 1970’s and 1980’s its success was generally attributed to its comprehensiveness. Thanks to Muni’s well established grid system, it was possible. In those days to travel from anywhere to anywhere else in the city by transit, over a reasonably direct path, using lines with good service levels to keep transfer time down, and not having to transfer more than once. Back then, if you didn’t have a car it was still easy to get around. But now comprehensiveness seems to have fallen out of favor.

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Cause: Dysfunctional Public Institutions / Effect: Regional Transportation in Shambles

For the last 8 years BATWG volunteers have worked to improve Bay Area transportation. In the process we’ve come to realize that in the Nine County Greater Bay Area, many of the region’s jurisdictions and large public agencies are failing to deliver effective transportation solutions and that without significant governmental change there is little chance of their doing so in the future.

Here are a few examples of how and where things have gone awry:

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Proposal to Divert Alameda County Measure BB funds to Valley Link

This $400 million diversion of Alameda County taxes is part of a relentless effort on the part of mostly non-elected local and regional public officials to abrogate the constitutional rights of Bay Area citizens by diverting funds earmarked for projects approved by the voters to other purposes. In most instances actions designed to alter ballot measure votes are preceded by backroom “stakeholder” meetings, committee meetings & “workshops” invariably used to sell a project or program favored by insiders. Unfortunately these sessions often become opportunities to sell pet ideas to agencies and business groups with one-sided presentations before anyone is burdened by having to cope with countervailing opinions.

In 2014 the voters of Alameda County approved Measure BB funds to improve the Tri-Valley’s access to BART. Now, the Alameda County Transportation Authority (ACTC) is being asked to divert $400,000,000 of these Measure BB funds to building a mostly single-track Valley Link rail line to San Joaquin County. BATWG, as dedicated to improving Bay Area mobility as it is, opposes this action for the following reasons:

o  The $400 million directed to the BART-to-Livermore project, the single largest cost item in Measure BB, was intended to improve Pleasanton’s and especially Livermore’s access to BART. Valley Link does little to achieve that objective. Instead, by helping mostly San Joaquin County it would result in a major shift of transportation benefits from Alameda County residents to non-Alameda County residents. This is a fundamental change from what the Alameda County voters voted for in 2014, and it goes without saying that $400,000,000 diverted to help San Joaquin County are funds denied to important Alameda County projects.

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Keeping BART’s Ongoing Bay Crossing Study in Bounds

At BATWG’s May 21, 2020 Zoom meeting, members of the BART staff briefed us on BART’s and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority’s (CCJPA’s) $50 million, five- year study to augment BART’s transbay service which…..pre-COVID…..was rapidly running out of carrying capacity.

The study is now over a year old. Yet at the meeting there was virtually no indication that any real progress had been made. On the contrary much of the presentation seemed to center on how much bigger the scope has become since the study was first defined as finding a second way of sending trains back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco. In fact it now seems to be looking at a proposed extension under Geary Boulevard to the Pacific Ocean, rail connections in Santa Rosa and all away along the Capitol Corridor Line to Auburn, as well as improved connections in Fremont to the Altamont Commuter Express and ties many other public transit elements throughout Northern California. Here are some of BART’s statements about the Bay Crossing Study, followed by BATWG’s responses

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SFMTA Continues to Duck Questions about the Siemens Couplers

San Francisco’s Muni Metro Subway was designed to accommodate four and five car trains. Since the 1997 introduction of new BREDA LRVs and the Automated Train Control System (ATCS), the Muni and now the SFMTA have refused to operate with more than two car trains, thereby reducing the carrying capacity of the subway and adjoining Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels to less than half their design capacity.

To be able to form at least three and four car trains the MTA would need to restore its previous ability to couple trains together at the West and Duboce portals. It was anticipated that with the incoming Siemen’s LRVs this essential capability would be possible. Last Fall BATWG, Save Muni and others began asking the MTA whether or not the new Siemens couplers had this capability. However, since the arrival and testing of 68 new Siemen’s LRVs, no attempt has been made to either answer our questions or demonstrate this capability.