Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ron Gonzales true legacy: FUBAR, harming effective transit for decades to come

The Mercury News thinks BART could've been a legacy for Ron Gonzales, who later turned out to be a crook due to the garbage deal, but how can you trust a news source that consistently supports special interests like the SVLG and SBLC that prefer more public funds going to their members' coffers and believes that "a condition for greatness is to have a great transportation system. And here that means BART," as quoted by the delusional Steve Glickman of Los Gatos.

The true legacy is that he FUBAR transit in the South Bay and the rail connection to the East Bay was delayed for decades to come. Back in 1999 when Gozales made his first State of the City speech, he said: "Before I leave office, BART will be connected to San Jose." It is a totally achievable goal, if the VTA commuter rail connection from San Jose to Union City has gone foward as planned. However, some in the press and the political circle interpreted his statement to mean a full BART extension. Gonzales, once supported the BART extension in the past, went along with this interpretation.

In March 2000, riding high the dot-com boom, Guardino and Gonzales convinced Governor Gray Davis to use the state surplus and allocate $35 million for the commuter rail/BART rail right of way, and later an additional $725 million to the BART extension. At the same the time, other transportation projects were also funded using the state surplus, including the Caltrain Baby Bullet.

In June 2000, after some conceptual studies and funding promise from the state, Gonzales and Guardino proposed a new sales tax extension, 6 years ahead before the expiration of the then-current 1996 Measure A/B tax. Gonzales and Guardino asked the County Board of Supervisor to place the tax on the November ballot as a general tax and an advisory measure similar to the 1996 tax. After a month long community-based campaign that questioned BART and the lack of benefits, Superviors Blanca Alavarado and Jim Beall defeated to place the general tax on the November ballot in August 2000.

Meanwhile, VTA was proceeding with plans for the commuter rail connection. Some objections were raised in Fremont regarding the rail alignment north of Mission Boulevard. Then mayor of Fremont Gus Morrison objected the rail project in its entireity because it would overlap the planned Warm Springs BART extension between Warms Springs and Union City. Nonetheless, the VTA board approved the purchase of locomotives and rail cars for that service.

The rejection of the tax proposal by the Board of Supervisors was clearly a slap in the face for Ron Gonzales. Next day, the VTA board in which Gonzales also sat on voted to place a special tax on the ballot, which required a 2/3 voter approval. The VTA tax measure was poorly drafted due to the urgency of submitting the measure to the November ballot before the deadline and the mis-guided board discussion that centered on what other projects would be funded besides the full BART extension.

After placing the sales tax on the ballot for BART, it appeared to VTA that a commuter rail connection is a liability rather than an asset. Using the excuse of "public opposition" mainly from Fremont, VTA effectively discontinued the commuter rail program in October and adopted a series of express bus improvements which was never carried out one excuse after another.

Despite the excitement for BART by the VTA board, the VTA general manager Pete Cipolla had warned the board that a new tax may be needed to support all the Measure A programs.

Due to the notion of "free BART" (the campaign argument in support of the Measure clearly stated: NO TAX INCREASE), great economy, and poor campaigning conducted by the opposition, Measure A was approved by 70%. Gonzales got his mandate, but as we all know today, transit has not improved and promises were not kept. The 2000 mandate is now a barrier for superior alternatives such as Caltrain Metro East from implementation.

Gonzales could have a true legacy of establishing a rail transit connection to the East Bay with BART. He got greedy in 2000 with BART and now he is getting neither.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The delusional and the chickened rule VTA

From today's BayRail Alliance Announcement:

1) VTA Board approves BART preliminary engineering contracts

After a somber and extended discussion, in which several of the VTA board members expressed concerns about the BART project and suggested that VTA study alternatives, the board voted 9-2 to approve the preliminary engineering contracts. Councilmember Greg Perry and Supervisor Liz Kniss voted No.

We're disappointed with this outcome. The overwhelming majority of the public testimony they received was against spending more on BART. Margaret Okuzumi was interviewed by both KRON 4 and NBC 11. Please look for her appearance on the 6 o'clock news tonight. She was also interviewed (in English) by Sing Tao Chinese Radio.

Supervisor Kniss repeatedly mentioned the cost overruns of Boston's "Big Dig" -- a project that was originally priced at $4 B and is now priced at $16 Billion -- and expressed concern over the construction risks of tunneling. "I say we're on the wrong track with these precious transit dollars," said Kniss. Among other concerns, she noted BART doesn't yet connect to the county line.

This fight isn't over -- VTA will be putting a measure on the ballot in 2008 to obtain more taxes for the BART project. If that tax is defeated, then the VTA board will be forced to consider superior rail alternatives that don't require a new tax.

Meanwhile, please thank Greg Perry and Supervisor Liz Kniss for their No vote.

The rest who support these contracts fall under two categories: delusional and chickened. Members like Cindy Chavez and Forrest Williams clearly fall under the delusional category, for being beholden to the South Bay Labor Council and the construction unions. Members like Don Gage and Breene Kerr fall under the chickened category. They knew that the BART extension as planned is infeasible and will hurt their constitutents, but they were too chickened to vote no because they were too chickened to be the ones that kill the BART extension. They would prefer someone else to do this tough job.

The 2008 Measure A campaign has begun.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To Mr. Burns: Please stop destroying transit

In a Mercury News article today, VTA General Manager Michael Burns tries to justify the BART design contracts despite the lack of operating funds:

"We can make the argument that we can build the system,'' Burns said, "but we clearly do not have the money to operate the system. We need to come to a decision point on this over the next 18 months or two years.''

To Mr. Burns: Please stop using coded words that people like Carl Guardino can understand. Fortunately, BayRail Alliance executive director Margaret Okuzumi translate the phase into layperson's term:

Any VTA board member who votes for this is essentially saying they want VTA to put another tax on the ballot in 2008, and is presuming that such a ballot measure will be successful.

Also to Mr. Burns: Bad transit hurts all transit. The BART extension was ill-conceived and underfunded since 2000. Last June, voters clearly rejected to pay more taxes into this transit black-hole. This "stay the course" BART policy will only further erode voter confidence on VTA and all mass transit. Why would voters support transit in the future when the signature VTA project will bankrupt VTA, destroy bus service, and fail to meet ridership projection?

Friday, December 08, 2006

A big Christmas gift for VTA consultants?

For VTA, the quickest way to waste public funds is to spend more money on consultants. On December 14 (9:00am), the VTA board will decide whether to approve a series of contract amendments on the engineering and design work for the BART extension worth over $100 million in total.

Earlier last month, the Transit Planning and Operations committee submitted these items to the board without issuing a recommendation.

VTA's problem is that it cannot afford to build the BART extension with the funds it has. VTA's plan requires a new sales tax, which voters clearly rejected last June. If these contracts were approved without additional taxes to fund construction, the end-product would be just engineering and design materials, unable to carry any passengers anywhere.

Instead, VTA should start a fresh review on all VTA projects, without the negative and idiotic influence from Ron Gonzales, and immediately begin real improvements like a direct express bus line between Fremont and downtown San Jose, which was approved six years ago for not building a commuter rail connection to BART.

If the VTA board doesn't want to place a new tax on the ballot and let the voters decide, the VTA board should not approve these contracts and extort money from taxpayers.