I’ve written here before about why Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a great transit and environmental solution. AC Transit’s BRT project may be being held up by the Berkeley City Council and Planning Commission, but we’re making headway on that front, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the City will ultimately vote to move BRT forward.
Unfortunately, there’s a very vocal minority of Berkeley neighborhood activists and merchants that want to prevent bus riders from San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley from benefiting from faster transit. They must be worried that the City will soon recognize the environmental and community benefits of this project, so some of the opponents have decided to circumvent the council and go straight to the voters.
On March 19th, Dean Metzger and Bruce Kaplan of Berkeley filed a request for a ballot title and initiative summary for an anti-BRT initiative (PDF) that they presumably hope to get on the November ballot. This is just a first step, and who knows if they’ll be able to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot, but the initiative is bad news for the East Bay. It’s also just bad policy.
From the Findings and Purpose section:
The purpose of this measure is to enable the people of the City of Berkeley, by majority vote, to decide whether City streets or portions thereof shall be converted to transit-only or HOV/bus-only lanes, prior to dedication of such lanes.
Regardless of any issues one may have with AC Transit’s current BRT proposal, this is just bad planning. This initiative would mean that anytime the City wanted to convert lanes to transit-only lanes, the decision would have to be made by the Berkeley electorate. Even if the dedicated bus lane only extended one block into Berkeley from Oakland or another neighboring city, Berkeley residents would have the final say. Projects could be held up for months or even years if an election wasn’t approaching (I don’t see the city holding special elections for this issue).
But it gets worse…
When a change [in land use or transportation] is modest or uncontroversial, it is appropriate to rely on elected representatives to make these decisions, but if the change is significant or potentially harmful, the citizens should have the opportunity to decide their own future directly through the ballot.
This is just ludicrous. To me, this reads that the filers believe that deciding on dedicated bus lanes is the only land use decision that is “significant or potentially harmful” to the city. Does this mean that building permitting decisions are insignificant? How about zoning decisions? If Metzger and Kaplan have so little trust in their elected officials to make good planning decisions, why not strip the Planning Commission of all of its rights and duties and conduct all planning decisions by ballot initiative?
Normally, I’d just shrug something like this off – after all, the vocal minority of NIMBYs that controls much of Berkeley politics is one of the main reasons I moved to Oakland (well, that and the exorbitant rents). But this initiative would effect the entire East Bay, holding up transportation upgrades that are sorely needed. If we’re ever going to lure a significant portion of the population out of their cars, we need to invest in transportation and ultimately accept significant changes to our lifestyles. One might think that this environmentally friendly issue is something that “liberal” Berkeley would support, but that remains to be seen. Whether this initiative makes it to the ballot and whether it passes has the potential to show the true colors of Berkeley residents.