BART staff coordinate Oakland Airport Connector astroturf campaign

13 May

Yesterday, the Airport Area Business Association (AABA) sent an email to its membership asking them to write to the BART Board in support of the Oakland Airport Connector and to speak at tomorrow’s meeting. My first thought was that this is incredibly short-sighted (or naive) of them because the OAC is going to do nothing for businesses surrounding the airport, since there are no intermediary stops. A free rapid bus, in comparison, would do a lot for the area businesses by making transit cheaper and by adding an intermediary stop.

But once I stopped banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what reasoning AABA could possibly have for supporting the OAC, I quickly found my answer by reading some of the contents of the email:

GO GREEN – The Oakland Airport Connector is a critical GREEN project. Currently, less than 10% of the people who travel to the Oakland Airport each year use the bus that connects the Colisium BART Station to Oakland Airport. BART Studies show that the public is eager for a plane to train connection and will use it. The alternative – a bus rapid transit project – could be fueled with dirty diesel gasoline, attract the same low number of riders as the current bus system, be less reliable and some advocates are talking about purchasing the busses from Belgium!

JOBS – The Oakland Airport Connector Project (OAC) has been embraced in the region as a premier economic development project as a part of the President Obama Stimulus Package. The Oakland Airport Connector will create 200-300 local construction jobs over the next several years, and create 30 permanent jobs operating and maintaining the system.  The project is poised to break ground in early 2010…

ATTRACT – The Oakland Airport Connector will attract millions of additional transit riders to the BART System each year. How do we know? Because the SFO train to plane connection is doing exactly that – attracting thousands of daily non-transit riders who hop on board for the convenience and reliability. The SFO connection, opened in 2003, carried almost 4 million riders last year (more than 10,000 average daily riders) and the future looks bright. Even in a tough economy, ridership on the system has expanded at an astounding rate of 20% each year.

What’s so odd about this email is not just the multiple spelling errors, exaggerations, and blatant lies throughout, but that it’s essentially a replication of an email that Kerry Hamill sent to the Oakland City Council last week.  You probably know Kerry Hamill from her race against Rebecca Kaplan for the at large Oakland City Council seat, but she’s also the Manager of Local Government and Community Relations for BART. My guess is that Kerry called up AABA and asked them to send out this email, without bothering to tell them that there was another option on the table and they just went along.

It gets even better. Attached to the email that AABA sent out is a sample letter to sent to BART directors. If I was an AABA member, I’d probably assume that someone at AABA had drafted this letter in the interests of the group. Well, I would be wrong. Because this is what the properties of the document show:

BART Letter of Support with Attribution

This is a clear case of BART staff indirectly lobbying BART directors via advocacy groups. Some might call this astroturf, but whatever it is, it’s not right. Taxpayers and BART riders pay Kerry Hamill’s salary (and the salaries of other staffers that might have been involved in this), and it looks like they’re using their staff time to lobby BART.

Pissed off yet? Well, it gets even better. Today someone left a comment on one of my blog posts about the OAC from “Mark from Oakland”, saying that buses would be slower, blah, blah, blah. When I looked into it, I saw that it came from a BART IP address, during work hours. So BART staff members are reading the blogs and posting as if they’re community members. Fun stuff.

Well, transit advocates don’t need to use astroturf tactics to turn out our base. Let’s show Kerry Hamill and the rest of BART staff that reason can win out over internal lobbying. Please join me tomorrow in asking the BART Board to move forward with a rapid bus project instead of this wasteful OAC project:

What: BART Board Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Thursday, May 14th @ 9am (TransForm recommends showing up by 8:30 if you’d like to get a seat in the Board room; if not, there is an overflow room.)

Where: Kaiser Center – Third Floor, 344 20th Street in Oakland

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the BART directors how you feel, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

6 Responses to “BART staff coordinate Oakland Airport Connector astroturf campaign”

  1. Steve Carney May 13, 2009 at 11:56 pm #

    What an awesome post! It was like reading a transcript of a “Dateline Exclusive” investigative expose.

    My 180 on this is almost complete. I still believe an elevated tramway on rails would be far superior than the smoothest possible BRT alternative. However, the cost to build the tram and the cost to use it (for the passenger) is just not worth the benefit anymore. I would be firmly behind the BART Connector if it cost $300 million to build, $3 each way to ride, and had one stop on Hagenberger between the BART station and the airport to stimulate hotel and entertainment investment there. But that’s not the proposal, so I support the BRT alternative.

    An elevated station on the same plane as the BART platform is critical to providing the “seamless” transition from BART to BRT. I hope that becomes part of the BRT proposal. Whatever gets built must have the “cool” as well as the convenient factor in order to persuade businessmen and women from out of town to fly into Oakland instead of SF.

  2. Andy K May 14, 2009 at 6:13 am #


    Good detective work.

    Sent my e-mail several days ago. Good luck to all at the Board meeting today.

  3. Caramida May 14, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Wouldn’t that be illegal (criminally) if it were a Federal agency doing this? Is it legal for BART to lobby on BART property and using BART resources?

  4. Donald May 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Outrageous, times two! Someone should call the press. the other press. this should be all over the news.

    • Becks May 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm #

      Yes, the media should be all over this, but they’re not. I spoke at the BART board meeting yesterday about this and presented everything I presented above. Several reporters were there watching and I handed out documentation to some of them, but none of them seemed interested in the least.

    • dto510 May 15, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

      Is it more outrageous that BART staffers tried to gain support for the project on the public time, or that BART staff presented outright false information to the Board for them to consider when making their decision? They were paid for that time as well.

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