Last night, I went to Gavin Newsom’s town hall at the Rotunda in downtown Oakland. Overall, I wasn’t surprised by the event. He touched on many subjects – health care, education, improving the environment – and his overriding theme for the evening was that while many candidates talk about these issues, he has shown real progress on them. He did fail to mention though that many of the projects he took credit for last night (like universal health care) actually originated in the Board of Supervisors. But that’s pretty typical – he’s a politician and of course is going to take credit for everything he possibly can.
I really appreciated the fact that he took almost an hour of unfiltered questions from the audience. And I could not have been much more pleased when our new AC Transit Director, Joel Young, asked the first question. Joel explained that the state had defunded public transit and asked if Newsom, as governor, would restore public transit funding.
Newsom responded that public transit is so important for the environment and briefly answered, “Yes,” that he would restore the funding. But then instead of explaining why or how, he jumped into a long-winded speech about high speed rail. He started off by saying that he wanted to tell us about a project that he knew not all of us supported because it barely passed. This is a strange thing to say because 63% of Alameda County voters voted in favor of Prop 1A.
He then explained how high speed rail was going to change the state, creating jobs and changing how we thought about and used transportation. He talked about his vision for the “Grand Central Station of the West,” which is what some are calling the Transbay Terminal. Energetically, he explained how this would greatly improve the Bay Area region, making it easy to get from downtown to downtown (Oakland to SF).
And that was it. That was his answer to an AC Transit Director.
Now I’m very supportive of high speed rail (though I think it was a failure to choose the Pacheco alignment over the Altamont alignment), and I endorsed Prop 1A. But high speed rail won’t do us much good if our local transit agencies crumble. Getting from downtown to downtown might be made easier, but most of us don’t live downtown so if AC Transit cuts lines that would get us there, this “Grand Central Station” won’t be much help to us, will it?
As you might have read in the Chronicle yesterday, AC Transit will be voting tomorrow on fare increases, and soon after that will consider service cuts. And it’s not just AC Transit. More than 80 local transit agencies nationwide are facing fare increases and/or service cuts. At the same time, ridership is increasing, in the East Bay, the Bay Area, and beyond.
What I’m looking for in a candidate for governor is someone who not only understands and is committed to the big, sexy transit projects like high speed rail, but for someone who shares the same commitment to funding and improving our local transit agencies. I want to find a candidate who gets excited talking about buses and who understands the need to solve this problem (PDF, via A Better Oakland). Last night, Newsom failed to prove that he is that candidate so, for now, I’ll continue my search.
(If you’d like to read about the other topics Newsom covered, check out a diary at Daily Kos by a friend I sat with last night.)