Bay Area at a Crossroads

It’s no secret that because of disconnected transit systems and ever-increasing traffic backups, the Bay Area is becoming more and more constricted…..and that helps no one. This increasingly obvious regional problem has recently been reaffirmed by a panel of business interests proposing to raise and spend $100 billion to create a “Faster Bay Area”. While they’ve correctly identified the long neglected problems in need of attention, the FBA group has yet to set forth a fair and equitable way of raising the necessary capital. Moreover the group continues to struggle with the problem of how to implement a bonafide regional program without its being sabotaged by local and special interests intent upon obtaining new funding for their parochial and special interest projects.

The Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is clearly expecting to gain control over this vast amount of new transportation funding, which would come on top of its recent takeover of ABAG and continuing attempts to assume control over the region’s housing crisis. Is MTC up to the job? During the last four and one half decades, despite acquiring and spending well over $100 billion, MTC has had little if any effect on either strengthening Bay Area transit or reducing Bay Area traffic. So the answer has to be a clear NO.

There are several reasons for this. Continue reading

NO on AB 1487 Coalition Letter to Governor Newsom

NO on AB 1487 COALITION
c/o Law Offices of Jason A. Bezis
3661-B Mosswood Drive Lafayette, CA 94549-3509
(925) 708-7073     Bezis4Law@gmail.com

September 25, 2019

The Honorable Gavin Newsom
Governor of California
1303 10th Street, Suite 11 73
Sacramento, CA 95814
[VIA https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/ and U.S. MAIL]

Re: Recommendation to Veto AB 1487 with Message to Legislature to First Enact Reforms of MTC

Dear Governor Newsom:

This office represents a coalition of organizations, including the Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG), which urge you to veto AB 1487 with a message to the Legislature to investigate the struc­ture, activities and effectiveness of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and to enact necessary reforms of MTC first. MTC is ill-suited to govern a “Housing Finance Authority.”

AB1487 would give significant new power and taxing authority to a “Transportation Commission” that is not qualified to handle housing. Every four years, the eighteen voting MTC commissioners are “selected for their special familiarity with the problems and issues in the field of transportation.” Government Code §66504. The new four-year term began in February 2019. The selection process did not include ‘housing.’

The MTC commissioner selection process is opaque and undemocratic. Our coalition found legal irregularities in seven of the Bay Area’s nine counties in the 2018-19 selection process. ln many cases, commissioners were appointed with literally nothing in writing: no application, no statement of qualifi­cations, not even an e-mail requesting appointment. The Brown Act violations are too numerous to dis­cuss herein. MTC sent letters to many jurisdictions that explicitly asked them to re-appoint the incum­bent. In one case, a 32-year incumbent was re-appointed to another four-year term during a six-minute “special meeting” held in the backroom of an Italian restaurant four days before the November election.

Continue reading

Valley Link Political Juggernaut

Valley Link seems to be advancing quickly, once again proving that political push seldom relates to validity and cost-effectiveness.

Valley Link is a train project and….provided they make sense….BATWG normally supports train projects. In this case a new, partially single-tracked passenger rail line would extend from BART’s existing East Dublin Station eastward through the Altamont Pass to Lathrop in San Joaquin County, a distance of 40 miles. The line would be diesel-operated, cost upwards of $2 billion and require a projected $26.7 million a year to operate. Its promoters forecast that as a result of Valley Link, BART’s ridership would increase by 13,800 riders a day by 2040. Given the already jammed peak-period conditions in the central part of the BART system, even this tiny increase would not be not good news for BART riders.

          More Mobility for Everyone?

Nor would Valley Link be of much use to the unhappy auto-commuters habitually bogged down in I-580 traffic which, according to Caltrans was, as of 2016, already burdened with a staggering 214,000 trips a day through much of Livermore. That number has significantly increased since 2017 and is projected to reach at least 350,000 trips a day by 2040! Continue reading

$100,000,000,000 to Fix Bay Area Transportation? (updated Sept 10, 2019)

On May 30th, the San Francisco Bay Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), assisted by transportation consultant Stuart Cohen, presented a plan they call “Faster Bay Area”, to raise up to $100 billion for the purpose of moving the Bay Area beyond the current transportation morass.

As SVLG VP Jason Baker put it…”we think the time is ripe to work for a world class, integrated transit system that is faster, more reliable, more affordable and more equitable…”

Matthew Lituchy, Chief Investment Officer of the Jay Paul Development Company echoed these thoughts by noting (San Jose Mercury July 7th) that “The traditional methods of commuting have gotten over-stressed. Our freeways are impossibly clogged with traffic. Commute durations are at all-time highs. People are looking to commute by alternative methods. Trains, light rail, Caltrain, bus, BART are the alternatives”.

To make the alternatives to solo driving sufficiently appealing to cause a major change in travel habits would indeed require a major effort, including significant improvements to the Bay Area’s transit systems, a strong new emphasis on carpooling and other measures designed to unclog the Region’s thoroughfares.

If wisely spent there is no doubt that $100 billion could do a lot of good, but getting this ambitious program past a skeptical electorate would be not be easy. For starters the sponsors of Faster Bay Area would have to demonstrate that this time it wouldn’t be just more of the same.

During the past four decades, over 120 billion dollars in State, Federal and Bridge Toll transportation capital have passed through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC’s) hands and subsequently been spent by the Region’s transportation agencies, always with rosy promises of improved regional transit and reduced regional congestion. But things have just gotten got worse. The mystery is, how could so much tax money have been spent with so little positive effect on regional transportation?

Could things be different this time? Of course. Here are four prerequisites to a successful program:
Continue reading

How Municipal Agencies get in Each Other’s Way

Ever wonder why it takes so long to get anything done in San Francisco? Read on:

Six years ago the San Francisco Planning Department and the Ed Lee Administration fixated on accelerating the “full-build-out” of Mission Bay. So they initiated the Rail Alignment and Benefits Study (RAB).
In RAB’s early days the RAB planners were floundering. In an attempt to appear useful they focused on finding as much fault with the Caltrain Downtown Extension project (DTX) as possible. In fact, based on what may have come from the blogosphere, the planners managed to convince themselves that the DTX tracks were wrong, the station layout was wrong, the train turnaround arrangement was wrong, the terminal was too small, the tunnels were too big, the construction approach was wrong and the train storage yard was in the wrong place. As the years rolled by, virtually all of RAB’s criticisms were quietly withdrawn, never to be heard of again. By RAB’s last year it was clear that the only residuals of this singularly wasteful and useless “Study” was a.) a proposed relocation of the rail yard to free up the site for more development (an idea unlikely to leave the starting gate) and b.) a proposed $2 to $3 billion subway under Pennsylvania Street (unlikely to be needed for many years if ever). Given these meager results it appears that the one and only lasting impact of the RAB study was the four year hiatus it imposed on the DTX project.
Continue reading