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.

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